From Bio Journal - June 2021

MAFF to promote RNA pesticides

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) formulated and announced its Green Food System Strategy on May 12. (See BJ April 2021) This strategy aims at quantitative and qualitative shifts in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries and positions innovation as the vital point of the introduction in order to "achieve a balance of productivity improvement and sustainability in the food, agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries through innovation." The contents emphasize that greening, organic farming, food loss countermeasures, etc. will be important for sustainable agriculture in the future and plans the construction of a production system using large enterprise high-tech and the establishment of a system for mass-distributing and selling of products. While something seems to have changed in MAFF with its intention to increase organic farming to 25% of all agricultural production, the content of organic farming described in the report is far from the organic farming based on the family management that is currently practiced.

Underlying this strategy is the use of innovation promoted by the Abe administration and inherited by the Suga administration, the pillars of which are AI and biotechnology. The prime example is the use of RNA agrochemicals, which indicates a complete shift from chemical agrochemicals to biotechnology. The development of superbreeds is expected to use genome-editing technology. The public was invited to comment before the strategy was announced. Large numbers of opinions were submitted, the majority opposed to the development of new varieties using genome-editing technology.

RNA pesticides use RNA interference to block the activity of specific genes. This is similar to genome editing, but where genome editing cleaves DNA and destroys genes, RNA interference blocks the action of RNA, preventing genes from working. Pesticides that destroy the function of genes that inhibit apoptosis (cell death) have been developed to activate genes for apoptosis. This is expected to be used in insecticides and herbicides, with especially use in insecticides being expected to appear earlier. Pesticide companies such as Bayer, BASF and Syngenta, as well as Nagoya University and the National Institute for Basic Biology in Japan, have already started work on the development of these pesticides. RNA pesticides will replace chemical pesticides, long shown to be harmful, but pose new hazards for environmental disasters.

Distribution of genome-edited high-GABA tomatoes begins

In mid-May, Sanatech Seed began distributing free high-GABA tomato seedlings to farmers and consumers who had applied for the seedlings in advance. (See BJ May 2021) Pioneer Ecoscience, Sanatech Seed's largest investor, actually took charge of the distribution and will also handle sales. The company also plans to manufacture and sell tomato puree made from the tomatoes. Sanatech Seed and the developer of the tomato, Professor Ezura of Tsukuba University, have continued to refuse to engage in dialogue with consumer groups. Cultivation of the seedlings proceeding as it is, will possibly lead to a totally uncoordinated spread of genome-edited crops.

Self-labeling of "non-genome-edited crops" for seeds and seedlings

Consumer groups and other organizations have initiated a petition campaign for the labeling of genome-edited crop seeds and seedlings, but organic farmers and civic groups concerned about the free distribution of genome-edited tomatoes have also started to consider voluntary labeling. In mid-May, the panel considering the labeling will finalize a label design that will clearly state "No! GMO" and that the seeds are non-genome-edited, expressing opposition to genetically modified crops at the same time as opposition to genome editing.

RIKEN responds on genome-edited potatoes

Test cultivation of the genome-edited potato have begun in the fields of the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO) in Tsukuba City. (See BJ May 2021) The Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN), which developed this potato, responded to questions from civic groups such as the NO! GM Food Campaign in a letter dated May 6. According to the letter, both the production and cultivation of the potatoes are for research purposes, and it has not yet been decided whether the potatoes will be commercialized or not.

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(English Index)