From Bio Journal - October 2006

Unauthorized GM maize Bt10 being field tested in Shizuoka Prefecture

On 10 August 2006, citizens visited Syngenta Japan's own isolation field in Shimada City, Shizuoka Prefecture. Currently, there are an insecticidal GM maize "Bt10" and a herbicide (Glyphosate and Sulfonylurea) resistant GM soybean being field tested. The Bt10, which was discovered last year to have been cultivated illegally in the US for four years (2001 to 2004), resulted in the EU banning Bt10 from entering Europe, and the Japanese government carrying out mass disposal of Bt10 (see: BJ October 2005 then follow links back). Presumably, the Bt10 was trialled urgently in order to get it approved in Japan. Also, the herbicide sulfonylurea is made by DuPont, and is known to cause rapid development of resistant weeds.

Cedar pollen allergy GM rice harvested

On 7 August 2006, the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences (NIAS) harvested its cedar pollen allergenic GM rice (see BJ June 2006). This will be used for the safety assessment. The current test is being conducted on crab-eating monkey, and the result will be publicized within the year.

Cedar pollen allergy GM rice cultivation in Tokushima Prefecture

On 6 September 2006, Nippon Paper Group, Inc. announced that it will start conducting a glasshouse trial on the cedar pollen allergy GM rice in Komatsushima City, Tokushima Prefecture from January next year. This is a project undertaken in collaboration with NIAS and sponsored by MAFF. Nippon Paper has a patent on the MAT vector, which can be used as a marker gene instead of the antibiotic resistant maker gene, and this will be the first GM rice developed using the vector. (MAFF Press release 2006/09/06)

Establishment of citizens' executive committee on GM crops in Hokkaido

On August 28, 2006, an executive committee for a "consensus panel" to discuss GM crops by a third party was established in Hokkaido (Executive chairman Mr. Shigeo Sugiyama, professor of Hokkaido University). The committee's opinion will be finalized as a "public" proposal. (Mainichi Shimbun Hokkaido edition 2006/08/29)

MAFF gets serious about bioethanol production

MAFF has started to make serious moves towards bioethanol production (see BJ September 2006). A cabinet resolution was passed in March 2006 to initiate a "Comprehensive Strategy for Biomass Nippon", which has been put into action. Now MAFF will stipulate three or more sites in Hokkaido and other regions where bioethanol plants will be set up, around which the formation of "model regions" will be supported, and the production plans for the raw materials, sugar cane, wheat, and beet, will begin in earnest. (Japan Agricultural Newspaper 2006/08/22)

Human ES cells approved for use in drug toxicity testing

A meeting of the MEXT specialist panel which screens human ES cell (see BJ June 2006) research was held on 30 August 2006. Two research applications were approved, one from Kyoto University Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences, and one from the National Research Institute for Child Health and Development. The research applications are for research using established ES cell lines. Kyoto University's research program, as for many programs that have been approved in the past, concerns the induction of differentiation of ES cells to specific kinds of cell. but the National Research Institute for Child Health and Development program differs in that it concerns research towards the development of drug toxicity testing methods. Recently, research using human tissue and cells as substitutes for animal testing has begun to spread, but obtaining human body parts is extremely difficult and currently fragments of tissue and so on removed during surgery are being used. Human ES cells are now receiving attention as being a possible "joker card" to solve this issue in one fell swoop. The strong proliferatory nature of human ES cells would enable mass production in factories, and the idea is to make use of these in toxicity testing for drug development. It is thought that such research will become very active in the future.

Human clone embryo report: Tokyo hearing held

A public hearing concerning the report published by the MEXT working group, "Interim Report on the Production and Use of Human Clone Embryo for Research Purposes", was held in Kasumigaseki, Tokyo on 26 August 2006 (see BJ September 2006). A similar hearing had also been held in Osaka on 29 July. Although the report lifts the ban on research using the human clone embryo, severe restrictions have been placed on the conditions for research establishments and the method of obtaining the unfertilized ova. The report has thus become a target of criticism from both proponents and opponents of this kind of research. Those invited to state opinions at the hearing can be divided into three groups: representatives of groups of patients with intractable diseases who wish to see the ban on research lifted, representatives of self-care groups undergoing fertility treatments or with uteral diseases who are thought to be potential donors for the research material (the ova), and researchers in the field of regenerative medicine. It is thought that those invited to give opinions at the hearing were decided upon through consultation between MEXT, as the secretariat for the hearing, and the members of the working group. The day's biggest surprise was possibly the opinion given by Norio Nakatsuji, Director of the Kyoto University Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences, said to be the "top runner" in regenerative medicine research, and where the first human ES cell was successfully established in Japan. At one point Nakatsuji stated that, "I reckon that in the future there is a more than 50% possibility that we will say that clone embryo research was not necessary and that it could not be used for practical applications..." and that, "(The report), having said 'OK you can do research,' by then placing restrictions (on the research) that are almost impossible to implement makes policy responsibility for the promotion of the research very unclear."

Closeup: The Story of the Non-approved "LL Rice 601"

On 18 August 2006 USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) and FDA (Federal Drug Administration) announced that they had received notification from the German Bayer CropScience that the non-approved GM "LL Rice 601" was present as a contaminant in rice that was under general distribution.

"LL Rice 601" is a GM rice variety incorporating tolerance for the herbicide Basta, the "LL" standing for the brand name "Liberty Link" of a series of GM crop products containing herbicide tolerance marketed by this company. The inserted gene is the PAT enzyme gene; phosphinotricine-N-acetyltransferase.

"LL Rice 601" was developed as a long-grained Indica rice. Previously, "LL Rice 06" and "LL Rice 62", varieties intermediate between the long-grained Indica rice and the short-grained Japonica rice, were considered for planting in the USA and export to Japan, mainly for animal feed and processed food purposes. In 1999 Bayer CropScience acquired the second-largest seed company in India, Proagro Seed Co. Ltd., and was seeking to expand its market for Indica rice.

"LL Rice 06" and "LL Rice 62" received FDA approval, but "LL Rice 601" remained unapproved. Thus, this contamination incident has become the next such incident after the Syngenta Bt10 corn (maize) non-approved variety contamination incident. Although long-grained rice is currently not entering Japan for human food purposes, it is possible that it is present as a contaminant in rice being used for processed foods.

On 19 August 2006, MAFF requested that manufacturers cease imports of long-grained rice, including that in processed products, originating in the USA, and cease processing and sale of American long-grained already imported until it became possible to implement tests. MAFF and MHLW are currently requesting DNA data and are rushing to establish an analytical method. However, testing for the rice in finished processed foods is effectively impossible.

"LL Rice 601" underwent outdoor cultivation trials from 1998 to 2001, but in the past five years has not been cultivated. If the current contamination incident has its cause in these trials, then we can say that this incident shows that the control of GM crops is impossible. If shoddy seed management is shown to be the cause of the incident, it will be clear that the lessons form the Bt10 incident, caused by seed contamination, have simply not been learned.

When Bayer CropScience was formally known as Aventis, in 2000, it was responsible for the "Starlink" GM corn (maize) contamination incident, and so the current incident is the second case of a non-approved GM crop variety becoming a contaminant in the food distribution system from the same company. Although the cause of the contamination has never been announced, it is clear again in this case that the lessons of the "Starlink" incident have also simply not been learned.

The problem is, are these contamination incidents concerning non-approved GM crop varieties going to be repeated year after year? It is possible that they will become more frequent as the development of GM crops continues to proceed. It is possible that we will reach a situation where irreparable damage will be done to the ecosphere, and that risks concerning foodstuffs will be heightened.

Table: History of non-approved GM crop contamination incidents
YearNon-approved GM crop and developerCountry of cultivation
2001Starlink (maize) - Aventis (now Bayer CropScience)USA
2001New Leaf Plus (Potato) - MonsantoUSA, Canada
New Leaf Y (Potato) - MonsantoUSA, Canada
2002Rainbow (papaya) - Upjohn and othersUSA (Hawaii)
2005Bt10 (maize) - SyngentaUSA
Bt rice (rice) - Wuhan Agricultural University, ChinaChina
2006LL rice 601 (rice) - Bayer CropScienceUSA

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