From Bio Journal - November 2006

Trend: Non-approved GM rice distribution: Japanese government has no effective countermeasure

On 4 October 2006, a formal meeting was held at the Diet Members' Building to discuss the current situation regarding unauthorised and illegal GM rice issues, at which officials from the MHLW and the MAFF answered questions raised by the NO! GMO Campaign. The officials responded that the only measure the government has taken has been to tighten up the inspection system for rice imports in order to prevent the entry of unauthorised GM rice into Japan. Up to now, only limited information has been provided concerning the US herbicide resistant GM rice (LL rice 601 developed by Bayer CropScience) and the Chinese insecticide GM rice (Bt rice).

Regarding the LL rice 601, the Japanese government halted the import of long grain rice from the US on 19 August, 2006. However, since insufficient data was in place for testing processed rice products, testing began on 15 September. The government also started to test both short and medium grain rice varieties on 27 September. The officials admitted that the Japanese government has simply received information from the US government that Bayer is investigating the exact source of the contamination, and also that there is no way to control processed rice products that are produced in third countries.

Regarding the Bt rice, although the Japanese government has requested information from the Chinese government several times since April last year, the official response from the Chinese government has remained unchanged, simply repeating that "GM rice is not commercialised in China, and therefore there is no GM rice cultivated. It is controlled by local regulations". Because of this, the Japanese government is unable to conduct a field survey or gather data.

Concerning testing, the Japanese government has been and will continue to test imported rice from China. Regarding processed rice products, the government has started testing rice noodle products from 22 September. However it is difficult to take any further measures, according to the officials.

US superweed countermeasures

On 10 August 2006, members of the Shizuoka Prefecture joint purchasing society "Rengebatake" visited Syngenta Japan's fields at Shimada City. Answers to question submitted during the visit were made available on 30 August. The answers made clear the countermeasures being recommended on US farms against herbicide resistant superweeds. These apparently are:
  1. Continual use of the same herbicide is not recommended,
  2. Use a combination of herbicides which are effective against a specific weed variety,
  3. Practice crop rotations,
  4. Check for the presence of resistant weeds,
  5. Carry out weed prevention and removal before seeds set on weed plants,
  6. Clean farm equipment.
If these recommendations were faithfully carried out, not only would the selling points of the herbicide resistant crop varieties, labour and cost reductions, be lost, but doubt would be cast on the whole reason for the existence (raison d'etre) of GM crops themselves. These recommendations give some indication of the reality that superweeds are becoming a large stumbling block to the spread of GM crop varieties.

Beet added to list of labelled GM foods

On 26 September 2006, the food sanitation sub-committee of the MHLW Pharmaceutical Affairs and Food Sanitation Council added GM sugar beet to the list of GM foods requiring labelling. The listed GM crops now number seven; GM corn, GM canola, GM soybean, GM cotton, GM potato, GM alfalfa, and GM sugar beet. However, sugar from GM sugar beet, as well as derivatives from sugar beet, such as syrup, were excluded from the list. The varieties of GM sugar beet approved for food by the MHLW in Japan are Monsanto's herbicide resistant GM sugar beets (77 and H7-1) and the Bayer CropScience herbicide resistant GM sugar beet (T120-7).

Imabari City passes GM crop regulation by-law

On 27 September 2006, the "Imabari City Food and Agriculture Community Development By-law", which includes restriction of GM crop cultivation, was unanimously approved at the regular city assembly in Imabari City, Ehime Prefecture (Shikoku Island). As for the prefecture level, Hokkaido and Niigata Prefecture have such by-laws in place to restrict GM crop cultivation. However, at the city level, Imabari has became the very first example. The by-law bans GM crop cultivation in principle, and all GM crop cultivation must receive approval from the City Mayor. Penal regulations for infringements of the by-law are introduced in the By-law. (The official Japanese document can be seen at:

Results of MAFF survey of GM canola volunteers to be announced this fiscal year

On 4 October 2006, at a formal meeting held at the Diet Members' Building, MAFF announced that it had initiated a survey of GM canola volunteers from this fiscal year (April 2006 to March 2007). The survey covers all twelve ports of entry of GM canola, carrying out searches at a maximum of 45 sites within a five km radius of the loading points. Apparently, the primary tests have all been completed and the secondary test results are due to be announced within this fiscal year.

Safety assessment guidelines for nutritional supplements to be on agenda for Codex Sixth Session

As well as foods derived from GM animals, safety assessment guidelines for foods which supplement specific nutrients will be considered at the Sixth Session on the Codex Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology due to take place from 27 November to 1 December 2006 at Makuhari-Messe International Conference Hall (Chiba City, Chiba, Japan). The working group led by Canada has drawn up draft guidelines for the safety assessment of nutritional supplements (and so on) and has solicited comments up to a 1 October deadline. If the draft is approved, the guidelines will be appended to the existing GM plant foods guidelines.

Bioethanol plant begins operation in Osaka

Japan's first fully commercial bioethanol plant is to begin operation in Sakai City, Osaka, from January 2007. (See Closeup BJ September 2006) The plant will use GM bacillus coli developed at Florida University to produce ethanol from construction waste materials. The company is known as Bioethanol Japan Kansai and is based on investments from five companies; Taisei Construction Corp., Daiei Inter Nature System, Marubeni Corp., Sapporo Breweries Ltd., and Tokyo Board Industries, Co., Ltd. The plant will start at 1400 kl/month, which will rise later to 4000 kl/month. (Nikkei Biotech 2006/9/25)

GM crop approval data for October 2006

GM crops approved for open field cultivation (Type 1 usage)
(Biodiversity Impact Assessment Investigative Commission)
NameApproval Date*
MaizeInsect resistanceSyngenta JapanMIR604, OECD UI: SYN-IR604-55 Oct 2006
MaizeInsect resistance + herbicide toleranceMonsanto JapanDBT418, OECD UI: DBK-89614-95 Oct 2006
CottonInsect resistance + herbicide toleranceBayer CropScienceLLCotton 25 x 15985, OECD UI: ACS-GH001-3 x MON-15985-75 Oct 2006
* Technically, approval is granted after public comments have been accepted.

Closeup: Riken genetic data leak incident and the 300,000 person gene bank project

On 13 September 2006, as was made clear in the Riken (an Independent Administrative Institution under MEXT) press release, an employee of NTT Data on temporary transfer to Riken's SNP (single nucleotide polymorphisms) Research Center (SRC), was able to obtain the genetic information for 144 people using the file exchange software "Winny" from his personally owned computer. According to the materials in the press release, all the leaked genetic data had been made anonymous and could not be traced to any specific person.

However, the anonymity in today's gene sequencing labs is the so-called "traceable anonymity".

Genetic samples and treatment data (medical records) of patients gathered by hospitals and other medical institutions are sent on to genetic sequencing organizations after having personal details such as the name and so on of the donor removed and a unique ID number affixed. Thus the donor's personal details are kept by the medical institution and the researchers at the genetic sequencing lab receive only an ID number with the gene sample and medical record.

Since the leaked genetic data involved in this incident was that sent to the sequencing facility, it is said that specific individuals cannot be identified, but with affixed ID number making it possible to trace the donor it cannot be denied that there is still a possibility that specific individuals could be identified. Suppose a person employed at a medical facility took home a patient's personal data and had it available to display on his or her home PC. It is not beyond the bounds of imagination that someone using Winny might be able to download that information from that PC via the Internet.

At present, Riken's SNP Research Center is participating in MEXT's "Order-made Medical Treatment Realization Project" as a sequencing facility. The project leader is NAKAMURA Yuusuke, Director of the same research facility. The project began in April 2004 and is also known by the name "300,000 person gene bank project". See previous articles: BJ April 2005 and BJ July 2005) The whole project is operated with a base institution, Tokyo University Medical Research Institute, Riken's sequencing facility, and the cooperation of 66 (as of 2 May 2006) medical institutes nationwide gathering samples for the project. This is a huge project which aims to collect gene samples and medical records from 300,000 people to build up a "bio-bank" over the five-year term. It cannot be said that the bio-bank is safe simply because it has data security regulations. The regulations did not manage to prevent the present genetic data leak from occurring.

Genetic data is known as "the ultimate personal data". When a specific individual is identified, not only the donor him/herself is affected, but the privacy and human rights of blood relations are infringed. The social impact is incalculable.

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