From Bio Journal - February 2006

Trend: Niigata Prefecture announces "Outline of GM Crop Cultivation Regulations Bylaw"

Niigata Prefecture announced its draft "Outline of GM Crop Cultivation Regulations Bylaw", and invited public opinions to be submitted between Dec 26, 2005 and Jan 13, 2006. The reason for the bylaw is stated in the draft, which says although genetic engineering is a technology which will be needed in the future, it is necessary to take measures now in order to avoid damaging the image of prefectural farm products.

Regarding GM crop cultivation in general, the draft suggested that it should be subject to approval by the prefectural governor. However, regarding outdoor research, a notification procedure only is suggested, in line with a similar Hokkaido bylaw. Last year, the Hokuriku Research Center in Niigata Prefecture conducted an open-air trial on the defensin-producing GM rice (see BJ November 2005 ).

The notification will be reviewed by a "GM crop cultivation screening panel" (tentative name), and the possibility of the panel consisting only of specialists is high.

The widths of buffer zones for prevention of intercrossing is not included in the draft, since it is to be decided in minor regulations after the bylaw is approved. Moreover, the level of penalties is yet to be clarified.

Possibility of influx of non-approved GM rapeseed

On 21 December 2005, MAFF announced the possibility of non-approved Canadian GM canola, being imported into Japan. The GM canola in question is a herbicide (glyphosate) resistant rapeseed called "RT73 B.rapa", which is approved in Canada and was cultivated in 2004 and 2005. According to the Canadian government, this GM canola's planted acreage was 0.009% of the total, and it was deleted from the seed registry in 2003. Therefore, although it is unlikely to be cultivated in the future, the possibility of contamination by pollen and seed spillage still remains. It would appear that the possibility of influx of non-approved GM canola being exported into Japan will exist for some time to come.

Trial on suspension of outdoor cultivation of GM rice goes to formal litigation

Last year, a group of farmers and consumers filed suit against the open air field trial of the defensin producing GM rice conducted by Hokuriku Research Center, Joetsu City, Niigata Prefecture. However, the appeal was turned down both at the district court and a high court (see BJ October 2005). On 19 Dec. 2005, local farmers and consumers once again took the case to the Niigata district court Takada branch, claiming that they have suffered mental distress from the GM rice cultivation. They are claiming damages of 26,700,000 JPY and suspension of the GM rice field trial in 2006.

Fukuoka City adopts an opinion paper demanding pollution prevention from GM rapeseed

On 16 December 2005, Fukuoka City Council adopted an "opinion paper demanding the prevention of GM rapeseed volunteer and cross-fertilization". The opinion paper was submitted to the city council by "Fukuoka Network" after co-operative union members had carried out an independent investigation showing that GM rapeseed volunteers existed at several locations in the city. The adopted opinion paper will be submitted to the Japanese national parliament, the chairpersons of both houses of the Japanese parliament, the Japanese prime minister, and so on.

MHLW and MEXT discuss human embryo

A meeting of the MHLW specialist committee considering the production and use of human embryos for research purposes was held on 13 December 2005. A hearing to which were invited the researcher Ms. Ayako Kamisato of the Center of Life Study and Science (a research institute), and lecturer in obstetrics and gynecology Naoaki Kuji of the Faculty of Medicine of Keio University.

Ms. Kamisato reported on the state of regulation of human embryo research in Britain and other countries, and Mr. Kuji reported on the current state of research using human embryos domestically and internationally. On the following day, 14 December, a meeting of the MEXT working group considering the production of human clone embryos was held, and the method of obtaining unfertilized ova for use in research was discussed. Both of these panels were set up on the basis of the Final Report on the Human Embryo published by the Cabinet Office Council for Science and Technology Policy specialist panel on bioethics in July 2004 (BJ Aug 2004).

Review of Type-1 Cultivation Guidelines for rice buffer zone only

The MAFF panel considering the review of the "Guidelines for Approval of Type-1 Usage Regulation GM Crop Cultivation Experiments", mandated by the enactment of the domestic Cartagena laws, held a meeting on 22 December 2005 at which draft revised guidelines were finalized. Following a call for public comment the draft guidelines are expected to formally come into force from fiscal 2006 (from April 2006).

The main revision was simply that the buffer zones to prevent rice plants from cross-fertilizing have been expanded from the current 20m to 30m. The other measure to prevent cross-fertilization which had been considered, the delaying by 20 days of transplantation of rice seedlings to the paddy field, was dropped because it was considered effectively impossible to gain the cooperation of farmers in the location. Further, the guideline on provision of information prior to the start of GM trials was not revised, the panel deciding to go with the holding of explanatory meetings for the time being to see how things go.

With regard to the rice buffer zone, the National Agricultural Research Center for Tohoku Region found in 2004 that cross-fertilization occurred at 25.5 m and from April 2005 have adopted the interim measure of a 26m zone. Much doubt was voiced by the panelists before the 30m revision was finally agreed on. The Aomori Prefectural Agriculture and Forestry Research Center's Green Biocenter Director Masahiko Suzuki asked, "Do you think it's OK to be changing this so often? If the next new data shows that it's 35m, are you going to change it again?" In response, the acting-chairperson, Professor Tada'aki Hibi of Tamagawa University Research Institute replied, "In the past, the (former) Ministry of Education GM trial guidelines really did change frequently. It was unavoidable because the guideline had to be changed in step with the progress of scientific knowledge. Now that we have this figure of 25.5m, we believe that we will gain the understanding (of the people) with 30m."

Cross-fertilization Monitoring Center to be established at Hokkaido University

Following Hokkaido's GM Crop Cultivation Regulation Bylaw taking effect on 1 January 2006, Hokkaido University is to set up on its campus a "Food Environment Safety Management Center" (tentative naming). It is working towards starting operation in 2007, and its main purposes will be to monitor cross-fertilization of GM crops and to publish data.

Symposium on "comprehensive consent" at Kitasato University

On 9 and 10 December 2005, a medical university ethics committee liaison conference was held at the Sagamihara Campus (Kanagawa Prefecture) of Kitasato University. On the morning of 10 December, a symposium was held entitled "Concerning the Ethical Research Use of Stored Samples and Treatment Data" at which the need for "comprehensive consent" was discussed. "Comprehensive consent" refers to a single, one-time consent on the part of a donor when providing a sample in genomic research, under which the sample may be used in an unspecified number of research experiments in the future.

Five panelists took part in the symposium, at which four of them were researchers from Kyoto University, the National Cancer Center and so on; in other words sample gatherers. The fifth participant was Ms. Akiko Nobe of the Congenital Limb Deficient Children Parents Association. While pointing out the problems, the researchers basically took the stance that comprehensive consent was acceptable. In response, Ms. Nobe clashed with them head-on by stating, "That the data on our bodies is to be used in research just as if it were some kind of object, not knowing how it will be used, makes me very upset, and it gives me a feeling of repulsion to know that this situation should simply be allowed to exist."

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