A meeting of the MEXT Working Group on the Use of the Human Clone Embryo in Research, under the Cabinet Office
Council for Science and Technology Policy specialist panel on bioethics was held on 5 June 2007, at which the
draft first report on the approval for research use of human clone embryos was finalised
(See BJ April 2007
). Discussions have
continued since December 2004, following the publication of the final report on the human embryo by the Cabinet
Office Council for Science and Technology Policy in July 2004 (See BJ August 2004
The draft will now go to the specialist panel on
bioethics for discussion before being submitted to the Cabinet Office Council for Science and Technology Policy.
The major aim of the human clone embryo research is to develop a method for obtaining large numbers of unfertilized
ova, necessary for research purposes. The draft report puts forward three principals. 1. Only unfertilized ova that
have been earmarked for disposal can be obtained, 2. Free consent of the donor involved, and 3. Gratis donation.
What is meant by "earmarked for disposal" here is unfertilized ova that remained unused following fertility treatment,
ovaries removed from a GID (gender identity disorder) patient following a sex-change operation, sections of ovaries
removed during cancer operations and so on. Concerning the technology of freezing and un-freezing unfertilized ova,
according to a report by the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the birth rate for microinsemination of
fresh ova is 16.7%, but that for frozen ova 10%. The report suggests that this gap shows that this is not yet an
The Hokkaido Seikatsu Club Cooperative GMO-Free Zone Declaration Convention announced on 2 May 2007 that it had
declared approximately 40,000 ha of farmland GMO-free. Following that, the declarations have spread to other
regions until by 15 May 2007 the GMO-free area had reached 40,774 ha, or 3.4% of Hokkaido's farmland. Adding
this to previous declarations, over 1% of Japan's farmland has now been declared GMO-free.
Almost simultaneously three research groups, including that of Professor YAMANAKA Shinya at the Kyoto University
Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences, have produced cells analogous to ES cells (embryonic stem cells), known
as induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, from cells from the skin of adult GM mice. The race between these
three research groups to produce human iPS cells from human somatic cells is now well under way.
Research and Development of GM rice appear to be stalled.
The cedar pollen allergy alleviating GM rice will be planted this year at the NIAS research field in Tsukuba City,
Ibaraki Prefecture as well as in a hothouse of the Nippon Paper Group, Inc. in Komatsushima City, Tokushima Prefecture
(see BJ June 2007
). After the MHLW ruled that the GM rice is a pharmaceutical, prospects for its commercialization are
nowhere in sight (see BJ May 2007
). Even so, this is the only GM rice still being developed in Japan, many other GM rice
R&D projects having been abandoned.
The stalemate of GM rice R&D is undeniable worldwide. There is apparently one insecticide GM rice being cultivated
currently in Iran, however, there is not much information available concerning the GM rice, and it is hard to know
what is really going on. Otherwise, the so-called "golden rice" is still being researched.
On May 21, 2007, the Council for Biotechnology Information (CBI) Japan held a seminar to which Dr. Rhodora R. Aldemita
from the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) was invited as a guest speaker. Dr. Aldemita said that her plan
is to make GM rice suitable for the Philippines, and have it commercialised by 2011. According to Dr. Aldemita, India
and Vietnam are also interested in the GM rice commercialization.
MAFF has set up an investigative commission regarding how to proceed with R&D on GM farm products, in order to develop
a new policy for work toward practical use of GM crops, including GM rice. The investigative commission started work
on 22 May 2007 by organising a closed hearing and discussion. They invited the National Institute of Agrobiological
Sciences (NIAS) and National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO) on May 28 to hear their opinions, and
Syngenta Seeds K.K., Monsanto Japan Limited, Japan Tobacco Inc. and Sumitomo Chemical Co., Ltd. on June 5, and then on
June 14, the commission invited the Japanese Society of Plant Physiologists and the Policy Research Institute of MAFF.
The commission is entirely focused on hearing only opinions from pro-GMO companies and organizations.
The ideas contained in the draft interim report will be released at the beginning of July.
This schedule seems very hectic. Although the aim of this commission is to indicate a path towards practical use of
GM crops, to meet behind closed doors with only proponents of GMOs is making citizens even more sceptical about this issue.