From Bio Journal - September 2010

Miyazaki University to conduct cultivation trials for GM cotton

Miyazaki University held an explanatory meeting for its GM cotton cultivation trials on 20 July 2010. The trials, conducted jointly by the university and Bayer, are for the purposes of the biodiversity impact assessment and will take place in the universityfs isolation fields. Two cotton varieties are involved in the cultivation trials, both produced by the German company Bayer CropScience and both having herbicide resistance and insecticidal traits.

Japan becomes party to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources

A new framework on the handling of genetic resources, the Nagoya Protocol, is to be finalized at the Tenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP10) scheduled to be held in Nagoya in October 2010. This is a mechanism for advanced countries to return to resource countries some of the profits they make by taking plant genetic resources from the tropical forests and so on of resource countries. Following the acceptance of the Protocol, it will be necessary for all countries to enact legislation on genetic resources.

In order to carry this out, it appears that Japanfs MAFF has become a party to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources (ITPGR) and will adopt its own regulations on genetic resources. The ITGPR is a treaty prepared by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) following the issuing of the Convention of Biological Diversity and covers genetic resources in the field of food and agriculture. The treaty was issued on 29 June 2004 and more than 120 countries have so far become parties to the treaty, the USA and Japan not, until recently, being parties to the treaty.

MEXT approves the first domestic animal-human chimeric embryo

At a meeting of the MEXT specialist committee on 28 July 2010, a research proposal to produce Japanfs first animal-human chimeric embryo was approved. The proposal was submitted by a research group under Professor NAKAUCHI Hiromitsu of the Institute of Medical Science, the University of Tokyo. An animal-human chimeric embryo is a special embryo produced artificially by implanting and integrating a human cell into an animal embryo. Professor Nakauchi and his group plan to produce three types of animal-human chimeric embryo by implanting human iPS (induced pluripotent stem) cells into mouse, pig and bird embryos and conduct basic research on whether these have the ability (chimera formation capability) to grow. The aim of this research is to produce organs that have human cells inside the animalfs body and to use these for organ transplants. Thus far, xenotransplantation has been plagued by immunological rejection and viruses, but with the appearance of iPS cells the development of animals for the provision of transplant organs has once again gained momentum.

GM crop approvals for July 2010

Table 1: GM crops approved for open field cultivation (Type 1 usage)
(Biodiversity Impact Assessment Investigative Commission)
NameApproval Date*
SoybeanAryloxyalkanoate-type and gluphosinate herbicide toleranceDow Chemicals Japan Ltd.DAS21606, OECD UI: DAS-216060-306 July 2010
* Technically, approval is granted after public comments have been accepted.

Closeup: Is it necessary to slaughter cattle and pigs that have foot-and-mouth disease?

The foot-and-mouth disease turmoil in Miyazaki Prefecture, involving the continual slaughter of livestock, has finally ended. Many people expressed their doubts about whether it was necessary to slaughter livestock over such a large area. This is a perfectly natural emotion from the point of view of the feelings of the general public. Doubts were also cast about why, if there is no problem consuming the meat and given the waste involved, these burdens were forced upon the farmers and such large compensations were necessary.

Honorary Professor of the University of Tokyo, YAMAUCHI Kazuya has spoken of the developments that led to the slaughter of livestock suffering from foot-and-mouth disease. According to Professor Yamauchi, foot-and-mouth disease first became established as an endemic disease in Britain and brought about a great loss to farmers there. From 1892 it was decided to introduce the method of slaughtering all the livestock in the surrounding area as a countermeasure. In the epidemic of 1920, however, the number of animals due to be slaughtered was too large, and some of the animals began to recover before their turn to be slaughtered came around, causing doubts about the slaughter method to become widespread among farmers. It became clear that animals could gain immunity from foot-and-mouth disease and recover naturally. Farmers began to express the opinion that if the animals would recover naturally there was no necessity to slaughter them, and this argument was advanced in parliament. However, when put to the vote, it was decided to continue the slaughter method by a slim majority.

What we can infer from the above is that foot-and-mouth disease is a disease from which animals can recover, and further that the slaughter method lacks scientific grounds and was adopted on the basis of a political decision by a majority decision in parliament.

In addition, this decision was internationalized by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE – formerly known as the Office International des Epizooties). The OIE was established in 1924 as an international organization overseeing animal diseases and formulates international standards for animal hygiene and so on from its HQ in Paris. In 1957, the OIE drew up a treaty for the prevention of foot-and-mouth disease, adopting the slaughter method.

Under the Livestock Infectious Disease Law, which entered into force in Japan in 1951, it became compulsory for cattle and pigs that have contracted foot-and-mouth disease to be forcibly slaughtered. Stud bull farmers in Miyazaki Prefecture resisted the slaughter order to the end, but the state decided to proceed with forcible slaughter. From the statefs point of view this was an executive measure based on law and there was absolutely no margin for the acceptance of the farmersf commonsense judgment.

The issue is that, with the advance of globalization, there is no longer any country that can escape foot-and-mouth disease, and it is therefore necessary to find a mechanism to enable coexistence with the disease. In order to do this, it is first necessary to abolish the out-of-date slaughter method, which places a burden on the farmer and which kills animals unnecessarily.

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