From Bio Journal - May 2006

Explanatory meeting on cedar pollen allergenic GM rice

On March 18, 2006, an explanatory public meeting was held at the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences (NIAS) in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, the first of a series of such meetings that are planned in different locations on the basis of the MAFF guidelines (see BJ July 2004). Due to a plan to cultivate the GM rice early in order to conduct double cropping to get 400-500 kg yields, this year's meeting was organized hastily. Currently, the safety of this GM rice is being assessed by testing the rice on crab-eating monkey, however, there was no explanation about this in the meeting. Moreover, there is no clear plan for developing this GM rice either as a drug or as a food.

Four GM crops including paprika commercialised in China

On March 24, 2006, a Professor Gu Guoda from Zhejiang University's college of Economics in China visited to Japan, and made a speech at the Office of Coordination and Information Analysis, the Policy Research Institute of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (PRIMAFF) . According to his speech, the area planted to Monsanto's GM cotton is growing in China and about 30 varieties of GM crop, such as GM tomato, GM paprika and GM morning glory have been approved for commercialization. It is expected that GM rice, GM maize, GM wheat and GM canola will be commercialized within the next 5 years, and GM cabbage, GM potato, GM aubergine, GM soybean, GM watermelon and GM peanut are being tested. He thinks the total area of GM crop cultivation will be 7.8 to 14 million hectares by 2010, and 50 million hectares by 2020. The major GM crop producing country in Asia appears to be off and running.

Latest GM food public opinion survey

The Society for Techno-innovation of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (STAFF) has carried out its regular public survey on GM food and has announced the results of the latest consumers' survey on March 20, 2006. According to the results, consumers who have good image of GM food were 9%, and those with a bad image were 51%. 49% think GM food is bad for the environment and 12 % did not think so. Regarding the consumption of GM food, consumers who are feeling reluctant were 62%, and 15% did not feel reluctant. Consumers who knew that oil and soy sauce do not have mandatory GM labelling were 24%, and 70% did not know about it. The result described the true state of most consumers in Japan, who do not know that they are eating GM food without their knowledge.

Environmental survey on GM canola

On March 20, 2006, the Ministry of Environment published the result of its GM canola survey conducted in 2005. The survey was conducted in 117 locations and 473 seeds were collected. The locations were, Shimizu Port, Yokkaichi Port, Sakaisenboku Port, Kita Kyushu Port, Hakata Port, Uno Port, Mizushima Port and their vicinities, as well as river banks of the Edogawa River, Arakawa River, Tamagawa River and Sagami River. Samples of Canola (Western rapeseed), Natane (Japanese rapeseed) and Karashina (brown mustard) were collected from each location. Results show that GM canola plants were confirmed in 7 locations (12 samples) near Hakata Port, Yokkaichi Port and a river bank in Yokkaichi City. They were all canola plants, two of them containing both Roundup and Basta resistant genes.

Monsanto reveals future GM crop strategy

Monsanto has revealed that for the meantime the company will continue to target four GM crops, maize, soybeans, cotton and canola for its GMO research, and the next GM varieties will be GM high lysine maize (LY038), currently being examined at the Food Safety Commission, as well as GM high tryptophan soybeans, currently being developed. Both have been genetically modified to increase the amount of essential amino acid in order to add value as animal feed. The company is also making post-Roundup herbicide resistant GM crops to be compatible for spraying with its own herbicide Dicamba. (Nikkei BioTech 2006/03/27)

Shinshu University adds three strains in human ES cell research

At a meeting of the MEXT specialist committee overseeing human ES cell research held on 17 March 2006, an alteration to the Shinshu University School of Medicine plan for the use of human ES cell was approved (See BJ September 2005). The current plan calls for research using previously established ES cell strains. Shinshu University is researching into the differentiation of myocardial and liver cells. The changes that were applied for were for the addition of research facilities, the deletion of the name of one researcher, and the addition of cell strains. The cell strains currently in use are Wicell strains from the USA, and to these are to be added three strains produced by Kyoto University Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences.

Joint meeting on human embryo - serious discussions get under way

A joint meeting of the MHLW and MEXT specialist committees considering standards for the production and use of human embryos for research purposes was held on 7 April 2006, and serious discussions began on the formulation of guidelines. Up to now, hearings had been conducted by inviting specialists such as obstetricians and gynecologists to speak before the committees. The first task presented to the meeting by the secretariat was to clarify the areas covered by fundamental research and clinical research in treatments for reproductive assistance. However, Jochi (Sophia) University Graduate School Professor Machino Hajime expressed the opinion that, "There is no point in being particular about the term clinical research. I think that it is sufficient to discuss under what conditions the human embryos will be allowed to be produced for research purposes in treatments for reproduction assistance." When 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 (See BJ Aug 2004), it approved the production of new human embryos for the purpose only of research into reproductive assistance treatments. In response, the chairman of the meeting, Sasazuki Takehiko, Director-General of the International Medical Center of Japan stated that, "The object here is not to define terms, but to discuss how far we can clarify the differences for the sake of the guidelines." Discussions have been held over to the next meeting of the joint committee.

Chiba Prefecture bylaw for Safe and Secure Food comes into force

Chiba Prefecture's "Bylaw for Safe and Secure Chiba Food" (See BJ Dec 2005) came into force on 1 April 2006. The bylaw contains "Measures Concerning GM Food, etc" which requires measures to be taken to prevent cross-breeding between GM crops and other (non-GM) crop plants. It is unclear whether or not Chiba Prefecture intends to formulate any separate bylaw or guidelines to regulate the cultivation of GM crops.

Labelling for GM beet

A joint meeting of MAFF and MHLW on food products was held on 22 March 2006 at which it was decided to add beet and its processed products to the list of foods which require mandatory GM food labelling. Public comments will be solicited. Monsanto's GM beet variety has already been approved and cultivation, processing and sales are due to begin soon.

Ajinomoto's GM glutamine approved

On 6 April 2006, the Food Safety Commission approved the GM L-glutamine developed by Ajinomoto. The approval is expected to be ratified following the solicitation of public comments. The "L-" form of glutamine is one of the amino acids that make up proteins, and is used as a food additive. GM technology has been applied to raise the efficiency of production of the amino acid.

MAFF revises GM crop cultivation trials guidelines

MAFF revised the GM crop cultivation trials guidelines on 8 March 2006, changing the buffer zone width for rice from 20 to 30 meters, and adding papaya and beet to the list of crops covered by the guidelines. MAFF intends in the future to revise the guidelines whenever changes become necessary due to progress in scientific knowledge.

GM crop approval data for March 2006

GM crops approved for open field cultivation (Type 1 usage)
(Biodiversity Impact Assessment Investigative Commission)
NameApproval Date*
CottonInsect resistance and herbicide toleranceDow Chemicals281 x 3006 x 144522 March 2006
CottonInsect resistance and herbicide toleranceDow Chemicals281 x 3006 x MON8891322 March 2006
* Technically, approval is granted after public comments have been accepted.

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