From Bio Journal - November 2009

GM flavourings to appear soon

On 14 September 2009, the GM food specialist panel of the Food Safety Commission assessed as safe two applications for GM amino acids from Ajinomoto. The Food Safety Commission has thus far assessed as safe, and the MHLW has granted approval for several GM food additives, but the vast majority of these have been enzymes such as alpha-amylase, used as a supplement to raise productivity during processing. Up to now there have not been applications for such materials as amino acids, used directly as flavourings. The additives assessed as safe this time are GM monosodium L-glutamate and GM L-phenylalanine. Monosodium L-glutamate (MSG) is used in various kinds of processed foods and is generally labeled as eamino acidf or eamino acid, etc.f L-phenylalanine is also used in a large number of processed foods in the form of the artificial sweetener aspartame L-phenylalanine.

The manufacturing method used for the two GM amino acids approved as safe this time is similar to that used for the production of L-tryptophan, which was the cause of a widespread food contamination incident in the United States (see Closeup below for more details).

Demands dismissed in Joetsu GM rice trial

On 1 October 2009, the Takada Branch of the Niigata District Court delivered its verdict of the dismissal of demands in the trial brought by local farmers and others against the National Agricultural Research Center (NARC) Hokuriku Research Center, Joetsu City, Niigata Prefecture demanding compensation for damages and the discontinuance of open air field trials of a GM rice variety conducted at the Hokuriku Research Center (see BJ February 2006).

The major point of contention of the trial was that the defensin gene, producing an antibacterial protein from leaf mustard, used for protection of the rice against several diseases such as rice blast, leads to the generation of strongly resistant bacteria that may have serious impacts on the environment.

Spilled GM canola volunteers increasing year by year

The results of the citizen survey on spilled GM canola volunteers, carried out from spring to early summer this year, have been finalized. Although the number of samples taken was smaller due to a narrowing down of surveyed locations, the survey discovered more GM canola volunteers than ever before (for the for the results of the 2008 survey, see BJ August 2008). It should be mentioned that the survey this year was faced with a situation where GM canola plants were to be seen blooming in all areas as never before. It is not clear why this should be, but it is possible that it is related to climate change.

Table 1: 2009 Survey of GM Canola Volunteers from Seed Spillage
Survey SiteSample No.Positive samples
Other (24 areas)668000
RR=Roundup tolerant canola, LL=Basta tolerant canola

GMO crop approvals for October 2009

Table 2: GM crops approved for open field cultivation (Type 1 usage)
(Biodiversity Impact Assessment Investigative Commission)
NameApproval Date*
CottonGluphosinate herbicide tolerance and lepidoptera pest resistanceBayer CropScienceGHB119, OECD UI: BCS-GH005-805 October 2009
CottonGluphosinate herbicide tolerance and lepidoptera pest resistanceBayer CropScienceT304-40, OECD UI: BCS-GH004-705 October 2009
CottonGluphosinate herbicide toleranceBayer CropScienceGHB614, OECD UI: BCS-GH002-505 October 2009
MaizeGluphosate and glyphosinate herbicide toleranceMonsanto JapanNK603 × T25 OECD UI: MON-00603-6 × ACS-ZM003-205 October 2009
MaizeHeat resistant alpha amylase producing herbicide tolerance, lepidoptera and Coleoptera pest resistance, and glyphosate and glyphosinate herbicide toleranceSyngenta Seeds3272 × Bt11 × MIR604 × GA21, OECD UI: SYN-E3272-5 × SYN-BT011-1 × IR604-5 × MON-00021-905 October 2009
* Technically, approval is granted after public comments have been accepted.

Now a blue chrysanthemum

The National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO) National Institute of Floricultural Science and Suntory Holdings have jointly developed a blue chrysanthemum. This is the third blue flower developed after the blue carnation and the blue rose (see BJ April 2006. The gene inserted was the edelphinidin-derived anthocyaninf gene taken from the blue petal of the Campanula. At present only about 75% of the red chrysanthemum pigment has been replaced by the blue colour, and thus the colour is close to purple. Development is due to continue until 100% of the red pigment has been replace by blue.
(Japan Agricultural Newspaper 2009/09/15)

Closeup: Impurities produced by GM technology

On 25 April 2009, the Food Safety Commission finalized its Thinking on the Safety Assessment of Amino Acid Additives. It can be said that the Commission was forced to put together this special report in order to initiate deliberations on the GM amino acids for which Ajinomoto had applied for safety approvals, since they are manufactured using a similar method to that used for the manufacture of L-tryptophan, involved in a serious outbreak of health disorders in the United States in 1989.

Amino acids are necessary for the body
Many bacteria, such as intestinal bacteria, exist in our intestines. These intestinal bacteria decompose the protein of meat, fish and so on into amino acids. Proteins are composed of amino acids linked together, and these are unlinked in the intestine to make it easier for the body to absorb. Ajinomoto uses intestinal bacteria to break down proteins to manufacture amino acids, and the GM amino acids screened by the Food Safety Commission are produced by bacteria altered by GM technology in order to increase their protein decomposing efficiency.

Tryptophan is one of the essential amino acids, which in a small amount can raise the level of use of proteins, and which has a receiving affect on mental and physical discomfort, and so is used in the treatment of many diseases as well as being used in nutrient supplements and in infant diet fluid. The L-tryptophan marketed by Showa Denko as a health food was also produced through the use of GM technology. The impurities produced during the manufacturing process led to the serious health disorders that occurred in the United States in the late 1980s.

The Showa Denko Tryptophan Incident
Looking into the causes of this incident, it was found that harmful impurities produced by the GM bacteria were not removed and contaminated the product, and these impurities led to the human disorders. The people who consumed the L-tryptophan contained in the health food contracted Eosinophilia-Myalgia Syndrome (EMS), affecting an estimated 6000 people, mainly in the United States, of whom at least 38 died.

Prior to the incident in the United States, Showa Denko had sold its tryptophan in Europe as a raw material for pharmaceuticals. However, it was pointed out by the buying company that impurities were present. Showa Denko then attempted to solve their problem by simply making changes in the manufacturing method and did not undertake a thorough investigation of the impurities. Although the impurities previously indicated were reduced under the new manufacturing method, new impurities arose. It is thought that it was these new impurities that caused the serious food impurity incident in the United States.

Litigation involving some 2000 plaintiffs was brought in the United States, but at the settlement negotiations Showa Denko demanded that in return for compensation payments the plaintiffs should not seek clarification of the cause of the incident. As a result, Showa Denko consistently maintained that the incident resulted from eunknown causesf and the government did nothing to pursue the matter. Thus the truth about the first GM technology food contamination incident in the world has never been clarified.

GM amino acids using similar GM technology have been assessed as safe and will soon be appearing on our dining tables. Isnft it fair to say that a thorough clarification of the causes of the tryptophan incident should be forthcoming before an assessment is made?

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