From Bio Journal - January 2007

Researchers call for relaxation of regulations on means of obtaining human embryos

A meeting of the joint MEXT-MHLW working group which is now drawing up guidelines for the production and use of human embryos was held on 8 December 2006, at which means of obtaining embryos for use in research was discussed. According to the current guidelines on human ES cells, unused frozen embryos remaining after repromed (see BJ December 2006) can be used for research purposes only after assent to do so has been given by both the husband and wife involved. The guidelines which are now being drawn up also limit use of human embryos to repromed research purposes. Kyoto University Graduate School Professor Ryuuichi IDA and Sopia University Graduate School Professor Saku MACHINO stated that the new guidelines should contain the same conditions as the human ES cell guidelines, since essentially identical material is being dealt with. Researchers reacted very strongly to the arguments of these two legal scholars. Norio NAKATSUJI, Director of the Kyoto University Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences and others insisted that the assent from one of either the husband or wife involved should be sufficient for use of the embryo. Unable to reach agreement before time ran out, the conclusion has been held over until the next meeting of the working group.

Cedar pollen allergenic GM rice to be tested on humans

On 29 November 2006, the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences (NIAS) in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, showed a harvest of its cedar pollen allergenic GM rice called "Kita-ake" (in Japanese) to the public. In total 450 kg, including the August harvest, will be used to conduct human testing for safety assessment purposes in 2007.

In addition, on 27 November, 2006, the Nippon Paper Industries Co., Ltd. responded to questions raised (in Japanese) by a citizens' organization regarding cultivation of the cedar pollen allergenic GM rice , as a project sponsored by the MAFF, in a glasshouse at its factory in Komatsushima (in Japanese), Tokushima Prefecture . The facility is capable of producing 700 kg of GM rice per year, and "Nihonbare" will be used as the cultivated rice variety. There is no plan to hold a public briefing concerning this project. The company said that there is a confidentiality obligation in the agreement with the MAFF, and that therefore it cannot comment any further.

Bio-fuel and GMOs

There have been several reports published one after the other, concerning the links between GM crop cultivation and bio-fuel development. On 21 November 2006, the US Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) published a report on bio-fuel. The report proposed measures to enable US producers to play a role in producing raw material for the bio-fuel industry. Additionally, on 17 November 2006, the USDA stated that there is a need to relax regulations in order to help the growth of the US bio-fuel industry. (Nikkei Biotech 2006/12/04)

In the same week, a research team at the University of Tennessee summarized a report that stated that in order to reach bio-fuel goals, a hundred million acres of agricultural land and pasture land would be needed for producing crops for bio-fuel in addition to the current 800 million acres of agricultural land in the US.

On 16 November 2006, the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy (NCFAP), a private-sector institution for th US biotech industry, published its report on the effects of GM crop cultivation in the US. The report mentioned that the GM maize growing area needs to be increased in order to produce both food and bio-fuel. (Agriculture online news 2006/11/21)

In Japan, the Agriculture and Livestock Industries Corporation (ALIC), an independent administrative institution, published a report (in Japanese) entitled "Bioethanol production will produce fundamental shifts to the US agriculture". The report concluded that after conducting a field survey in Minnesota, US production of bio-fuel is continually increasing, and since it has the support of the government will therefore "over a medium term be the only promising global scale substitute fuel."

GM crop approval data for November 2006

GM crops approved for open field cultivation (Type 1 usage)
(Biodiversity Impact Assessment Investigative Commission)
NameApproval Date*
BeetHerbicide toleranceMonsanto JapanH7-1, OECD UI: KM-000H71-430 Nov 2006
SoyOleic acid improvedDuPont260-05, OECD UI: DD-GM0 26005-330 Nov 2006
* Technically, approval is granted after public comments have been accepted.

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