From Bio Journal - May 2021

Trend: Intense activity toward commercialization of genome-edited food

There is growing intensity among companies and research institutes, and, based on that, in the government, regarding genome-edited food. A typical example is the start of field trials of a new genome-edited potato. The potato was developed by RIKEN and will be cultivated in the fields of the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO), which is conducting joint experiments with RIKEN. The potato has reduced amounts of solanine and chaconine, toxic alkaloids found in potatoes. Solanine is a toxic substance that forms in the sprouts, and chaconine is a toxic substance that forms when a part of a potato exposed to the sun turns green. The new variety was developed by destroying a gene to prevent the enzyme SSR2 from being produced, thereby preventing the production of these toxic substances. The first round of field trials is scheduled to be conducted from late April to early August, and the second round from late August to January 2022.

Meanwhile, Sanatech Seeds will soon start distributing free seedlings of high GABA tomatoes (see BJ January 2021). In anticipation of this, the Japan Citizens' Network for Sustainable Food and Agriculture (FA]Net), a citizen's group, repeatedly asked the developer, Prof. Ezura of Tsukuba University, and Sanatech Seeds for a meeting and to attend an opinion exchange meeting with MHLW. However, as both parties refused, another request was made through the office of Mizuho Fukushima, a member of the Upper House of the Japanese Diet, but again the professor and the company refused to attend, and only responses to written questions were received. According to the responses, "As a result of prior consultations with the relevant ministries and agencies and a review by experts, the safety (of the genome-edited tomatoes) is judged to have been scientifically determined to be as safe as conventionally bred tomatoes." No further details were given. On April 23, the company held a press conference to announce that it would start distributing the seedlings in mid-May and that they would be grown by contract farmers for processing into tomato puree for mail-order sales.

Activity surrounding fish, such as the fleshy red sea bream, is also gaining momentum (see BJ April 2021). The Consumers Union of Japan and other consumer groups received responses to letters of inquiry sent to the developer, Assistant Professor Kinoshita of Kyoto University, Regional Fish, and the MHLW. Briefly, the responses from Assistant Professor Kinoshita and Regional Fish were as follows. (1) The fish are cultured on land with double protection against environmental impacts, (2) The entire genome is analyzed and there are no off-targets, (3) There is no genetic mosaicism from the offspring generation onward, (4) The epigenome has not yet been analyzed, (5) Analysis of food ingredients shows no difference from conventional varieties, and (6) The company will take the consumer's right to know into account though labelling. Citing intellectual property rights as a reason to refrain from stating views, the MHLW effectively did not respond.

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