From Bio Journal - September 2013

Trend: Unapproved GM papayas comingled with papayas imported from Thailand

MHLW announced on 09 July 2013 that unapproved GM papayas were comingled with papayas imported from Thailand. This investigation was triggered by reports from Europe that GM papayas had been detected a number of times in papayas imported from Thailand. MHLW purchased four processed food products using papayas produced in Thailand and had them analysed at the National Institute of Health Science (NIHS). The result was that GM papaya was discovered in one of the products.

The product was dried papaya sold through the Internet from a food products maker, Foodnet, of Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Prefecture. The product names are gTry Vegetable Papayah and gVegetable Papaya.h On the same day, Fukuyama City ordered Foodnet to voluntarily retrieve its products, but the company had already begun to do so on 04 July. The Thai papaya used as the raw material for these products had been imported for use in pet food by a company in Okinawa and it was made clear that the papaya was then being resold as food for humans.

The only GM papaya approved in Japan is the gRainbowh papaya produced in Hawaii. In February 2012, it was discovered that Taiwanese GM papaya seeds were being sold in Okinawa. Thailand has also not approved GM papaya, but in 2004 GM papaya seeds were washed away in rain, resulting in the discovery that Thai farmers had been planting the GM seeds. It was subsequently confirmed that GM papaya trees have been growing in the wild. In the meantime, the potential for gene pollution is something that has been long pointed out.

The GM papaya cominglers detected this time had been engineered to resist the papaya ringspot virus, just as the Hawaiian and Taiwanese GM papayas have (see BJ June 2011). MHLW has begun monitoring imports of Thai papayas.

Japanese government resumes sales of Oregon wheat

On 03 July 2013, MAFF resumed inspections and sales of suspended Oregon wheat. Sales and bids for Oregon wheat were suspended from 30 May after the discovery of GM wheat volunteers (see BJ July 2013), but as the inspection system had been established, inspection began on the wheat for which sales had been suspended. Inspections are conducted by the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO), the first results being published on 05 July. The inspected wheat was 10,000 tons from a total of 170,000 tons of western white, and the remaining 160,000 tons is to be inspected following this. Batches showing a negative result being put on sale again.

At the same time, inspections were carried out on stored samples (58 samples representing 120,000 tons) of all US wheat varieties that had been imported between October 2012 and May 2013, but which had already been sold. Negative results were confirmed for all of these samples.

Resumption of bidding for wheat to be sold to domestic companies began on 01 August for western white, used in confectionary and so on, and on 07 August for soft white, used in animal feed. The distribution of Oregon wheat has now returned to the situation existing before the discovery of the GM wheat contamination.

Closeup: Biotechnology Now

It has now been 13 years since the first issue of Biojournal. Letfs take an overview of how the world of biotechnology looks today.

Regenerative medicine using iPS cells is now becoming the main actor in this field and is also playing a major role in the economic growth strategy put forward by the Abe cabinet. The final report put together by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industryfs research group on the commercialization and industrialization of regenerative medicine on 22 February 2013 predicts the size of the future market for regenerative medicine. According to the report, the scale of the market in 2012, if peripheral industries are included, was 16.1 billion yen, but the potential market size is expected to expand to 190.4 billion yen in 2020, 1.581 trillion yen in 2030, and reach a massive 3.845.8 trillion yen in 2050.

In all of this, the iPS cell, still very little understood, has been held up as the trump card of regenerative medicine and positioned as a pillar of economic growth. Professor Yamanaka Shinya of Tokyo University was awarded the Nobel Prize and holds the basic patents, and by leading the world in this research field has been honoured as the chief hope of industrialization of the technology. There are still many unknown issues with iPS cells, and especially problematic is the safety of implanting them in humans. The iPS cell is one that is repeatedly dividing, the mechanism being extremely similar to that of cancer cells, and the notion of commercialization is not yet anywhere in sight.

In contrast to iPS cells, somatic clone technology has retreated far into the shadows. There have been many abnormalities and deaths at the time of birth and the development of this technology has effectively collapsed. It has been reported that in humans a combination of somatic cell technology with ES cells could lead to organs and tissue that is not rejected by the host and that this could become the trump card of regenerative medicine. However, in addition to the fact that somatic cell clone technology is not proceeding well, since ES cells cannot be obtained without destroying a fertilized ovum, the technology has run into an ethical wall and collapsed.

GM crops are still characterized, as ever, by maize, soybeans, cotton and rapeseed, and the types of crops are not expanding. Especially, wheat and rice, which were expected to play a major role are still far from commercialization. The traits are also generally limited to herbicide tolerance and insecticidal properties, with other traits, such as drought resistance, not yet coming to commercialization. It is probably true to say that the industry has run up against the wall of problems that make it very difficult to manipulate life. With the exception of a few experimental animals, GM animals have almost totally failed to reach commercialization, and among these farm livestock are completely absent. The first GM animal in the USA, the GM salmon, has also been strongly opposed by both producers and consumers and it is probably fair to say that it faces a thorny road to commercialization.

In the future, it looks as if the citizen movement to pass GM food labelling laws in each of the US states will have a great impact. The industry side, meanwhile, is pinning its hopes on the advance of globalization through the outcome of the negotiations on trade agreements such as TPP and free trade agreement with Europe.

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