From Bio Journal - March 2007

Illegal and unapproved GM rice contamination in rice products from China

On 26 January 2007, the MHLW announced that unapproved GM rice had been detected in rice products from China and the ministry has ordered importers to either dispose of or reship the products. The detected GM rice was the same GM Bt rice variety that the international environmental organisation, Greenpeace, found in April 2005 (see BJ June 2005) had been illegally cultivated for two years in China. No country has approved the GM rice.

The GM rice was found in five samples of Morii Foods rice noodles (produced by Shandong Jincheng Co., Ltd) and in one sample of Mitaki Company glutinous rice flour (produced by Jiangsu Baby Group Co.) and were being sold as processed rice products, such as Ajinomoto's Vietnam Pho. Companies that sold the products in question have carried out a voluntary recall.

On 5 September, 2006, the environmental organisations, FoE and Greenpeace, announced the finding of unapproved Chinese GM Bt rice being sold in several European countries. Noting the announcement, the Japanese government discovered the problem after they started a half-sample check for imported processed rice products from China from 22 September 2006.

The protein, Cry1Ac, produced by the insecticidal toxic gene in the Bt rice is known as potential allergen. However, the MHLW commented that there is a GM corn, which uses the same gene, already approved in Japan, that has gone through the safety assessment procedure.

Cloned cattle - still many abnormalities

On January 19 MAFF published a paper entitled "Concerning the Current State of Research on Cloned Livestock". (See BJ Jan 2005) For cloned cattle, both clones from fertilized ova and from somatic cells exist. Looking at the data cell cloned cattle, which are due to be approved for human consumption in the US soon, many abnormalities are still apparent. Of 511 head born, firstly discounting the 116 head which underwent "test slaughter" and whose condition is unknown, 274 head, about 70 percent of the remaining 395 head, were stillborn, died immediately after birth, or died from illness, and so on. Of 707 fertilized ova clone births, 306 have been used as meat for human consumption. 63 head are given as "unknown", which hints at very poor management. In addition, 165 somatic cell clone pigs and nine somatic cell clone goats have been born, but further details were not given.

Table 1: Current State of Cloned Livestock Research in Japan (Somatic Cell Cloned Cattle) Unit: head, (as of September 2006)
Total Number of Births


In research facilities, testing




Post-natal death


Death from sickness, etc


Death from accidents




Test slaughter


In uterus


Hokkaido's GM consensus conference ends

Hokkaido Prefecture's 'GM crops cultivation consensus conference' (see BJ October 2006)ended on 4 February, 2007, after four meetings had been held with the cooperation of Hokkaido university's dialogue project. The committee members, chosen from citizens of Hokkaido after a public call for applications, finalised its recommendations. The consensus conference was organised after Hokkaido's bylaw to restrict GM crop cultivation was established in March 2005 (See BJ May 2005), and was the first attempt of its kind among regional governments in Japan. The recommendations will be reported to the prefecture, and then will be discussed at the third meeting of Hokkaido's Food Safety and Security Committee before it is reflected in prefectural policy.

95% misled by GM food labelling

A research company, InfoPLANT, conducted a survey concerning GM food labelling in Japan. Of the 1000 women surveyed, 95% of the respondents did not know that it is legal to label products as GMO-free that may have up to 5% GM crop derived ingredients in them. This indicates the reality of the current GM food labelling system, which is clearly misleading consumers. (Fuji Sankei Business Eye 2007/01/29)

Science Council of Japan begins discussion of assisted reproduction techniques

With continuing revelations of abuses of assisted reproduction techniques, such as the surrogate births at Suwa Maternity Clinic and the preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) at the Otani Women's Clinic, the Science Council of Japan has set up a "committee to review the state of assisted reproduction medicine" which has begun discussions with a view to possible legal enactment. The first meeting of the committee was held on 17 January 2007 and it is expected that basic conclusions will be reached by the end of January 2008. The focus of committee discussions will be whether surrogate birth should be approved or not, and other recent issues concerning assisted reproduction techniques.

MEXT establishes working group on "order-made medicine"

At the meeting of the MEXT Life Sciences Committee on 24 January 2007, it was decided to establish a "research strategy working group for the promotion of realization of order-made medicine". MEXT's project on the realization of order-made medicine began in April 2004 with a grandiose five-year plan to collect DNA samples and treatment data from 300,000 patients (see BJ July 2005) and create a 'biobank' at the Tokyo University Institute of Medical Science. As the end of the project in March 2008 draws closer, although the collection of data is proceeding smoothly (238,985 samples by the end of December 2006), by 8 February 2007 data from only seven samples had been distributed to research institutes from the bank, showing that there is some kind of obstacle in the process. Now, apparently, the strategic working group has been set up in order to consider how the collected data can be put to good use. We think it is possible to say that MEXT has it's priorities all the wrong way around in that it designs projects that collect large amounts of data but leaves the problem of what to do with the data till later.

MHLW fails to recognize efficacy of Iressa

At a meeting of the safety measures commission of the pharmaceutical and food hygiene council of MHLW on 1 February 2007, a report was heard of the results of a clinical trial of the anticancer drug Iressa (common name Gefitinib) carried out on 500 Japanese patients by the importers and distributors AstraZeneca stating that compared with the currently used drug, Docetaxel, Iressa could not be said to have increased or have provided equivalent or better survival periods. The report expressed the opinion that, "In lung cancer patients, on the second or third treatment with the anticancer drug, there were in general no positive grounds for selecting Iressa over Docetaxel."

In 2001 there were several reports that Iressa was effective in lung cancer treatments, and in July 2002 it received Japanese state approval as a pharmaceutical available under insurance schemes. However, a large number of deaths from interstitial pneumonia as a side-effect of the drug were reported and MHLW issued emergency safety information in October. Legal action concerning the drug's side-effects are still ongoing. In December 2004, the US FDA issued a statement saying that Iressa had no life-prolonging effect. Applications in European countries were withdrawn. The investigative panel of the MHLW nevertheless decided on continued use of the drug. Whereas some researchers held the view that the drug was effective for Asians, in 2005 the Tokyo University Institute of Medical Science Professor NAKAMURA Yuusuke and his team announced the development of a method for distinguishing the effectiveness of Iressa before administration by examining 12 genes which play a role in cancer cell multiplication and so on. He stated that, "If treatments can be selected for each individual patient it will be possible to use the effectiveness of medicines to their fullest extent." However, this latest announcement by MHLW crushes one of the possibilities of "new dream pharmaceuticals" which might lead on to order-made medical treatments. By September 2006 there had been 1,708 cases of the side-effects, of which 676 had resulted in death. (Mainichi Shinbun 2007/02/02, and other sources)

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