From Bio Journal - February 2009
Somatic cell cloned livestock approved for human food
It is now certain that the Food Safety Commission's specialist working panel on newly developed foods
will approve somatic cell cloned livestock for use as human food.
(See BJ July 2008
Despite the large number of still births and post-natal deaths, the working panel are giving the reason
for their approval as being that cloned cattle over 6 months of age are the same as conventional cattle,
and that once they are grown there are no health differences from conventional cattle
(Sankei Shinbun 2009/01/06). In the USA, descendants of cloned cattle are already in the
distribution system, and it is thought that this rush to approved cloned cattle meat is due to the
increased possibility that these cattle are among those being imported from the USA.
Concerning cloned livestock, on 22 December 2008, MAFF released its
Current State of Cloned Livestock Research
, covering the period up to the end of September 2008.
According to the data, although 557 head of somatic cell cattle have thus far been born
(22 added in the year up to December 2008), a mere 82 are currently in research facilities
undergoing tests, while the majority were stillborn or died immediately following birth, this number reaching 305 head
(10 in the past year). Especially conspicuous over the past year is the number of deaths from sickness,
eight in the past year. The rate of abnormalities is as high as ever, and it is hard to see any reason
why the Food Commission should be rushing into this approval while this situation remains unchanged.
Table 1: Current State of Cloned Livestock Research in Japan (Somatic Cell Cloned Cattle)
Unit: head. Source: MAFF
|Total Number of Somatic Cell Clone Cattle Births
(1998 to end September 2008)
|In research facilities, testing
|Death from sickness, etc
|Death from accidents
iPS cell research: "We lost 10-1" vs. USA last year
A MEXT working panel met on 25 December 2008 to discuss revision of the overall strategy
in order to move towards an acceleration of research and other uses for iPS
(induced pluripotent stem) cells (see BJ November 2008
Among the members of the panel is Kyoto University
Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences Professor YAMANAKA Shinya, the first researcher
to produce iPS cells. Comparing Japanese and USA research into iPS cells, Prof. Yamanaka stated,
"Looking back on the past year, I think we lost 10-1." In the USA last year, Harvard University's
large research team succeeded in producing iPS cells from the cells of patients suffering from ALS
(amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and type 1 diabetes. In contrast, there has been no particular
achievement in Japan since the success in producing iPS cells . Prof. Yamanaka's desperate statement
concerning the current situation seems to be clearly expressing the stance of Japan as she prepares to
plunge into the heated international competition for biotech prowess.
Human embryo production approval for assisted repromed
A MEXT-MHLW joint specialist committee meeting (see BJ August 2008
) was held on 26 December 2008,
at which was made public the draft report approving the production of human embryos for research purposes.
In the report, the production of human embryos was newly approved for assisted repromed research purposes
such as aimed at elucidating the causes of sterility. The period for use of embryos is up to 14 days
from fertilization, and the human embryos must be immediately discarded following the research.
Among the practices banned was the placing of the produced embryo in the uterus of a human or an animal.
Concerning the method of obtaining the unfertilized ova for research, it was stated that partial use of
samples taken for the purposes of sterility treatments and samples from ovaries or sections of ovaries
removed during operations and so on could be utilized. Right up until the end, there was conflict
concerning gratis donation by volunteers, but this was banned for the time being due to side effects
caused by ovulation inducing drugs used when sampling ova, and the physical and mental stress on donors.
Concerning sperm, where donor burdens are lighter than with ova, the report approves of sampling
"as a rule, from people who offer voluntarily." The joint committee will finalize its report in the
near future, and having taken opinions from the Council for Science and Technology Policy,
MEXT and MHLW will then begin to draft guidelines.
80% of consumers anxious about GM food
In a survey conducted by the Hokkaido government, it was found that 80% of consumers have fears concerning GM food.
This result is almost the same as a survey carried out in 2005.
The Hokkaido government sent out the survey form to 2,500 people living in the region in October 2008,
receiving replies from 1,373 people. 46% answered that they felt "anxious" about eating GM food,
and 34% replied that they felt "slightly anxious" about eating GM food, totaling 80% who felt some degree
of anxiety concerning the consumption of GM food. In contrast, 15% answered that they "do not feel very anxious"
and 3% that they "do not feel any anxiety" about consuming GM food.
The Hokkaido government will report these findings to the Hokkaido Food Safety and Security Committee,
which will then consider its response. (Japan Agricultural Newspaper 2008/12/21)
Closeup: Monsanto and the Obama Administration
In the midst of the financial crisis, Monsanto gains unprecedented profits
The Star Tribune reports (2009/01/07) that Monsanto earned a quarterly profit of $556 million in the
three months ended 30 November 2008, and that its stock rose $13 to $87.05. This may be partly due to the sharp
rise in grain prices caused by the biofuel boom.
In addition, another factor in this prosperity may be that Monsanto's strategy of controlling the world's
seeds is beginning to pay off. At present, Monsanto has become a monster that controls 20% of the
world's seeds. The world's farmers, when producing food, have found themselves imprisoned in a system
where they have little option but to buy seeds from Monsanto or another of the multinational corporations.
Symbolic of this is South Korea, where apparently all the six main seed companies have already been
bought out by multinational corporations. The takeover of Japan's seed companies is also underway, with
especially Monsanto and other biotech corporations actively involved in buyouts of seed and seedlings
companies that hold genetic resources of vegetables and flowers. Specialists point out that the aim of
these buyouts in Japan and South Korea is the GM transformation of vegetables. This monopolization of seed
companies by multinational corporations which use GM technology as a commercial weapon looks set to
continue for some time. (Japan Agricultural Newspaper 2008/12/09)
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