Having held a series of dialogues with agricultural organizations and consumers in preparation for the United Nations Food System Summit to be held in September this year, on 18 June 2021, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), held a "plenary discussion" to finalize a "Draft Vision of the Food System Aimed for by Japan" based on the previously announced Green Food System Strategy (See BJ April 2021
The Green Food System Strategy, on which the proposed Draft Food System is based, puts biotechnology-based agriculture at the forefront, alongside automated smart agriculture employing AI and 5G. One of these biotechnology products is biostimulants, the third agricultural material after pesticides and fertilizers. It is expected that amino acids, microorganisms and microbial extracts will be modified by genetic modification and genome editing to aid in mitigating stress, such as low temperatures and typhoons, and promote nutrient uptake.
Plant immune-priming (in preparation) by a pesticide transmission system using nanoparticles has also appeared. This is a method for advance increase in resistance to pathogens. This is also an application of biotechnology, since pesticides are enveloped in nanoparticles, which are sent to locations in the plants that are vulnerable to disease to prevent pathogens from working.
RNA pesticides have emerged as an alternative to chemical pesticides. These are genetically engineered pesticides that use RNA interference to disrupt gene activity (see BJ June 2021
). It is also indicated that the functions of soil microorganisms will be clarified and technologies for effective utilization of the microorganisms developed as alternatives to chemical fertilizers. Of course, genetic engineering, especially genome editing, is expected to be used to remodel microorganisms.
The development of super varieties precisely signifies the development of crops applying genome editing technology. The development of super varieties utilizing high-speed phenomics is also mentioned. The aim is thus to rapidly elucidate the relationship between phenotypes and genes in plants and to develop new varieties by genetic manipulation. In addition, there is a movement to actively promote food technology such as cultured and artificial meats and insect foods. Biotechnology applications are also a prerequisite for this, and it is biotechnology itself that plays the star role in the "Green Food System Strategy."
The Japanese Diet has begun moves to label genome-edited foods. On 20 and 21 May 2021, a hearing organized for consumer groups by the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan was held in the Diet Membersf Building to establish a labeling system for genome-edited foods. In addition, a suprapartisan group of Diet members working for food safety and security (chaired by Takashi Shinohara, a member of the Lower House) organized a meeting to hear citizens' opinions on food labeling in the Diet Members' Building on 15 June.
As genome-edited tomatoes are now available for free to the public (see BJ June 2021
), the NO! Genetically Modified Food Campaign sent open questionnaires to 11 processed tomato food manufacturers, including Kagome and Ito En. Nine companies responded to questions about whether or not they intended to use the genome-edited tomato. Five companies responded clearly that they would "not use" the genome-edited tomato, while the remaining four said they "have no plans to use it and have not yet decided on policy regarding use of the genome-edited tomato."
The Panel on Genetically Modified Foods of the Section on the Investigation of Newly Developed Foods of the Food Sanitation Subcommittee of the Pharmaceutical Affairs and Food Sanitation Council of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) held successive meetings on 10 February, 8 March, 17 March, 27 May, and 25 June 2021 to discuss genome-edited fish (See BJ April 2021
). Following the genome-edited tomato, efforts to approve genome-edited fish are also gaining momentum.
For GM foods, starting in 2023 it will no longer be possible to label foods with 0% GM content as "not genetically modified," "genetically modified content not used," "GM-free," etc. (See BJ November 2018
), and in anticipation of this change, the label "not used" has been removed from foods sold at supermarkets and other outlets. With this change in GM food labelling, the Consumer Affairs Agency's pro-industry stance has become clearer as consumers gradually lose their right to make informed choices when buying food. Since the beginning of this year, the Consumer Affairs Agency has been accelerating moves to eliminate the use of "additive-free" and "not used" labels, holding a series of "Guidelines Study Meetings on the Non-Use Labeling of Food Additives" on 4 March, 31 May, and 10 June 2021. As in the case of GM foods, it is highly likely that labels indicating "not used" and "additive-free" for food additives will disappear from the market.