From Bio Journal - January 2022

Rapid commercialization of genome-edited food in Japan

In 2021, amid the continuing impacts of the novel coronavirus, genome-edited foods were increasingly marketed in Japan. First, high-GABA tomatoes led the way. Sanatech Seed, a venture company founded by developer Professor Hiroshi Ezura of the University of Tsukuba, began distributing seedlings free of charge to the public in May. At the same time, the tomatoes were grown on partner farms, and Pioneer Ecoscience, the parent company of Sanatech Seed, began selling them on September 15. Pioneer Ecoscience also started selling seedlings to the public on October 11 and tomato puree late in the year.

This was followed by fish. MHLW received notification on September 17 regarding the "fleshy" red sea bream and on October 29 regarding the growth-accelerated tiger pufferfish, and sales commenced on December 6. Regional Fish Co., Ltd., which has developed and marketed the fish, is a venture company established by Associate Professor Masato Kinoshita of Kyoto University and Professor Keitaro Kato of Kinki University. On October 11, NTT DOCOMO announced that it would launch a demonstration experiment in collaboration with Regional Fish Co., Okumura Gumi and Iwatani Sangyo to find the optimal method for cultivating whiteleg shrimp (Litopenaeus vannamei).

For field crops, cultivation tests for rice, potatoes and wheat are underway. The rice and potatoes are being grown in the fields of the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO) in Tsukuba Science City. The "sink function modified rice" developed by NARO for the purpose of increasing yield has been tested in a five-year plan, this year being the fifth year, and it is thought that the results of the tests will eventually be announced in some form or other. The potato, developed by RIKEN and containing fewer alkaloids such as solanine, a harmful substance produced in the buds, was planted twice this year, in spring and autumn. A wheat variety developed by Okayama University was produced by manipulating a gene for seed dormancy, which lengthens the dormancy period of seeds and makes it difficult for the seeds to germinate even when they become wet in rain. The cultivation experiment began in the university's testing fields in Kurashiki City from November. The research team is also developing a difficult-to-germinate barley variety.

In addition, Nagoya University, a member of the Tokai National Higher Education and Research System, has developed tomatoes with high sugar content. Professor Ezura, who developed high-GABA tomatoes, is also developing long-lasting melons. From a global perspective, Japan is in the vanguard of genome editing developments.

It will soon be possible to distribute GM leaf mustard in Japan

On December 15, the Consumer Affairs Agency requested the Consumer Commission to revise the Food Labeling Act to allow the distribution of GM leaf mustard (Brassica juncea). BASF requested approval for the cultivation and distribution of the herbicide glufosinate resistant and fertility recovery leaf mustard in Japan, and the Ministry of the Environment and MHLW have already evaluated the leaf mustard as having no problems with regard to environmental impact or food safety. If the Consumer Affairs Agency adds the leaf mustard to its food labeling system, it will then become possible to distribute the leaf mustard in Japan.

Labeling of high-oleic acid soybeans changed to conform with usual GM crop labeling

Since substantial equivalence had previously not been recognized for high-oleic acid soybeans, on December 15 the Consumer Affairs Agency changed its previous labelling requirement concerning the labeling of such products as cooking oil. The reason stated for the change is that "it has also become possible to produce high-oleic acid soybeans through conventional breeding." This is effectively a relaxation of labeling standards that will make labeling on cooking oil unnecessary.

Consumer Affairs Agency promises to reconsider hard-to-understand GM food labeling

Ahead of changes to the labeling system for genetically modified foods starting in April 2023, consumer groups conducted a survey and found that labels indicating "non-GM" had decreased while labels indicating "identity preserved handling" had increased. These labels, which do not show the term "genetically modified," do not clarify what identity has been preserved. The NO! GM Food campaign that conducted the survey held negotiations with the Consumer Affairs Agency on 21 December 2021 to demand labeling improvements. The Consumer Affairs Agency promised to make some kinds of improvements.

Miyazu City uses genome-edited pufferfish as a return gift for hometown tax payment

On December 6, the Regional Fish Company began selling genome-edited red sea bream and tiger pufferfish online. At the same time, Miyazu City, Kyoto Prefecture, where the fish farms are located, has decided to use the genome-edited pufferfish as a return gift for hometown tax payments. Protests against Miyazu City have spread, with consumer groups and others criticizing the use of fish whose safety has not been confirmed.

Distribution of genome-edited tomato seedlings to elementary schools and facilities for the elderly

Sanatech Seed Co. has announced that it will distribute seedlings free of charge to elementary schools and nursing care facilities for the elderly with the aim of popularizing genome-edited tomatoes. The company plans to distribute the seedlings to nursing care facilities from 2022 to examine the impacts of cultivation and eating the tomatoes. From 2023, the company plans to distribute the seedlings to elementary schools to promote cultivation. Signature campaigns opposing the measure have been spreading and calls for local governments not to handle the seedlings are becoming widespread. A citizens' organization in Hokkaido has sent a letter to all Hokkaido municipalities urging them not to handle the seedlings.

Sushiro to collaborate on joint development of genome-edited fish

Food & Life Companies, which owns the sushi chain Sushirou, as well as Kyodaru and Seafood Misaki Port, has announced that it will initiate joint development of genome-edited fish in collaboration with Regional Fish Co., which develops genome-edited fish, and Platinum-Bio Co. (PtBiO), a research center for genome editing technology. Platinum-Bio is a venture company led by Professor Taku Yamamoto of Hiroshima University's Genome Editing Innovation Center.

Genetically modified rice cultivation tests begin in Tohoku region

The Ministry of the Environment and MAFF began soliciting public opinions on December 9, ahead of Tohoku University's application for approval of field cultivation tests of Rubisco-enhanced large-grain rice. Tohoku University has thus far conducted cultivation tests of iron-deficient rice, ultraviolet-sensitive rice, rice with excess Rubisco production, and rice with reduced Rubisco production in university fields at Naruko Onsen in Miyagi Prefecture. Rubisco is a carbon-fixing enzyme involved in plant photosynthesis. The difference between Rubisco overproduction and reduced-production rice were investigated during the three years from 2016 to 2018. The cultivation tests this time appears to be aimed at the practical application of Rubisco-enhanced GM rice.

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(English Index)