From Bio Journal - October 2021

Sales of genome-edited tomatoes begin

Sales of high-GABA tomatoes (see BJ June 2021, the first genome-edited food to be marketed in Japan, began on 15 September 2021. Sanatech Seed Co., a venture company established by Tsukuba University Prof. Hiroshi Ezura, has been distributing tomato seedlings to the public free of charge since May. Since the West Japan Business Office of Horticultural Seed Department of Pioneer Ecoscience (PE), the parent company, is located in Kikuyo Town, Kikuchi County, Kumamoto Prefecture, the tomatoes are grown by three contract farmers in the prefecture on a total of 30 ares (3000m2). From September of this year to June of next year, the harvest of about 40 tons is expected, and sales have been initiated by PE. The company also plans to sell processed tomato puree by the end of the year. The tomato was created by genome-editing techniques that increased the GABA content by a partial disruption of glutamic acid decarboxylase genes. GABA is said to have important health effects, such as lowering blood pressure, and this is being used to promote the tomato. Concerning intellectual property, PE said it is using CRISPR-Cas9 under a non-exclusive research and commercial license between Corteva Agriscience and the Broad Institute.

Currently, only high-oleate soybeans in the United States are being grown and sold as genome-edited crops. Edible oils are being manufactured from the soybeans, the sales point of the oils being that this is a healthy fatty acid due to the increased oleic acid. All of these first genome-editing crops can be said to have been tailored to meet people's health needs. In Japan, high-yielding rice varieties, "sink function modified rice," (See BJ June 2018) and potatoes not containing the toxic substance solanine produced in their buds, are also currently undergoing cultivation trials in the fields of the National Agricultural Research Organization in Ibaraki Prefecture.

Ministry approves sales of genome-edited red sea bream

On September 17, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) accepted a report on a red sea bream (see BJ September 2021) genetically modified by genome editing. This makes it possible to sell the fish on the market in the same way as with tomatoes in the previous article. The red sea bream is bred to be "fleshy" by using genome-editing technology to destroy a gene for myostatin, which controls muscle development. The fish was developed by Kyoto University Associate Professor Masato Kinoshita and Kinki University Professor Keitaro Kato, who have jointly established a venture company called Regional Fish Company to farm and sell fish.

In addition, Assistant Professor Hiroshi Ohga at Kyushu University's fish farm facility in Karatsu City, Saga Prefecture, has created an easily farmed common mackerel, and researchers under Kentaro Higuchi at a national research institute fish farm facility in Nagasaki City have also created an easy-to-farm tuna.

Labeling and organic certification of genome-edited crop seeds and seedlings

On September 16, representatives of the NO! GM Food Campaign and other civic groups visited the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) for a hearing and negotiations on the current state of discussions within the government on the labeling of genetically modified seeds and seedlings (see BJ April 2021 and June 2021) and whether or not to grant organic certification to genome-edited crops. A MAFF official said the ministry had not considered labelling for genetically modified seeds and seedlings in the past, but had begun the study because of growing interest among citizens. The ministry also said although it has confirmed in principle that genome-edited crops will not be granted organic certification, this is still on hold since there is no verification technology to determine whether or not food has been produced through genome editing. The official said that Canada is currently the only developed country that has decided not to grant organic certification to genome-edited crops and therefore MAFF is now in the process of contacting relevant organizations in the country.

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