Category Archives: Food

Fact Sheet: Status of Genome Editing in Japan

Fact sheet from Consumers Union of Japan

In September 2018, CUJ participated in the GMO Free Europe Conference in Berlin, Germany. One of the big topics right now is genome editing, which has called the applicability of the current regulatory framework for Genetically Modified Organisms into question. We published this fact sheet to inform others around the world about the debate in Japan.

Click here to download the pdf file.

In the News: “Gov’t committee’s GMO deregulation proposal too hasty: consumer groups, experts”

Consumers Union of Japan has been active in the debate about regulation of GMOs since the mid 1990 and firmly believe the new technologies, such as gene editing, must be strictly regulated. CUJ’s stance is that any such experiments should be stopped to avoid serious adverse effects on human health and the environment.

August 21, 2018 (Mainichi Japan)

TOKYO — Consumer groups are taking aim at Aug. 20 recommendations by an Environment Ministry expert committee that some genetically modified organisms (GMO) be deregulated.

The expert committee proposed deregulation of organisms edited to remove or deactivate certain genes as opposed to adding new code, but critics are claiming this is “the same as genetic manipulation,” and that it is “strange” to exempt it from government restrictions.

“They (the committee) came to this conclusion after just two meetings. How can they say it’s safe?” said Consumers Union of Japan secretariat chief Michiyo Koketsu. “We need a debate that includes a wide range of experts, not just a small section of the research community.”

Research is already well underway in Japan on creating meatier red sea bream by disabling a gene that suppresses muscle growth. In cases like these — of disabling genes as opposed to replacing or recombining DNA — if the edited fish went to market without any report to the government, how could it be distinguished from organisms created through gene manipulation? Inspectors can identify organisms created through gene replacement by the DNA added to the plant’s or animal’s genome. However, in organisms with a disabled gene, it is impossible to tell if this was the result of deliberate editing or natural environmental factors.

Some critics have also pointed to the risk of harmful genetic edits, such as creating allergens by deleting a gene by mistake.
Continue reading In the News: “Gov’t committee’s GMO deregulation proposal too hasty: consumer groups, experts”

International Symposium: Report from South Korea Meeting About Labelling of GM Food

International Symposium: Report from South Korea Meeting About Labelling of GM Food

The demand for better labelling of genetically modified food is rising in South Korea. With citizens taking the lead, over 200,000 people signed a petition in March, 2018 and was officially submitted to the government, but no response has yet been coming forward.

On July 19, 2018 an international symposium will be held in Seoul with invited specialists from Japan and the United States, to discuss the current status of GM food labelling. The hosts are different South Korean civil society organizations. Consumers Union of Japan and Seikatsu Club will be representing Japan.

We will hold an event in Tokyo on July 24, 2018 to discuss the current efforts to improve the GM food labelling in South Korea, Japan and the US.

Date: July 24, 2018 (Tuesday) 13:30-15:30
Place: Tokyo Women’s Plaza
The nearest station: The subway Omotesando station B2 exit or the JR Shibuya station Miyamasuzaka exit
Entrance fee: The general public: 800 yen (CUJ members 500 yen)
Reservation isn’t necessary.
Speakers
● Ryoko Shimizu (Seikatsu Club)
● Michiyo Koketsu (CUJ Secretary-general)
● Hirouchi Kaori (CUJ)

Food Industry & Supermarkets

Much has happened since the first supermarkets opened in Japan. The first is said to be Kinokuniya in Tokyo (1953), followed by Maruwa in Kita-Kyushu (1956). The initial reaction was that they would sell cheap and bad food, with cynics sneering at the katakana name, “suupa” (short for super). The expansion of the country’s transportation network made it possible to create high growth and massive profits were made.

The other factor behind the success that should not be forgotten was the appearance of artificial food additives. Bread with up to 30 food additives became the norm, and could be sold cheaply because of its long shelf-life. Products could also be shipped and sold nation-wide. In 1962, before the supermarket boom, Japan had 14,823 bakeries. The industry was soon ruled by the giant company Yamazaki Baking, and the number of bakeries dwindled to 4190 by 1971.

Of course this kind of trend did not just happen to the bakeries. Japan’s Fair Trade Commission has released data indicating that three major companies now dominate all sectors in a way that we can call oligopoly control. For frozen food, the largest three control 59.7% (Nichirei alone controls 32.8%), instant noodles 61.3% (Sanyo 31.3%), instant coffee 94.8 (Nestle 67.7%), whiskey 94.7% (Suntory 64.3%), and soy sauce 43.0% (Kikkoman 31.2%). Over half a century since the trend of industrial production with food additives made highly processed food possible, supermarkets continue to sell these items in large quantities. There is no doubt that our children’s health is increasingly under threat.

By Amagasa Keisuke, CUJ

June  12, 2018

Japan’s Soy Sauce Makers Replied to Our Questionnaire Regarding GM-Free Labelling

Japan’s Soy Sauce Makers Replied to Our Questionnaire Regarding GM-Free Labelling

Consumers Union of Japan

Food Safety Citizens’ Watch

NO! GMO Campaign

Japan is considering changing its mandatory labelling system for genetically modified (GM) food. Currently, a processed food can contain as much as 5% GM ingredients but still be labelled as GM-Free. At a Consumer Agency meeting on February 16, 2018, a new strategy to deal with GM labelling and such contamination issues was discussed.

One of the draft proposals was to set the limit at 0% (below detection limit). If such a strict rule is introduced, it will probably be very difficult for food companies to avoid contamination, even if identity preserved handling is adhered to. This would most likely mean that the current GM-Free label, which is quite common in Japan, would disappear.

On March 1, we sent a questionnaire to six major food companies to ask them about their opinion and how they respond to consumers that do not want to eat GM food. The six companies were Kikkoman, Yamasa, Masada, Higeta, Higashimaru and Morita. These companies use the GM-Free label, or 「遺伝子組換えでない」 in Japanese on some of their products.

We received the following replies from five companies that make soy sauce and use identity preserved handling to avoid GM soy.  

Question 1: Do you agree or disagree with the proposal to change the rule for the GM-Free label, so that it can only be used if the contamination is 0% (below detection limit)?

(1) We agree (2) We oppose (3) Other

Replies:

Kikkoman: (2) We oppose

Yamasa (2) We oppose

Masada (3) Other (Administrative policy decision)

Higeta: (2) We oppose

Higashimaru (3) Other (We will follow the labelling law when it is introduced)

Question 2: If the GM-Free labelling rule is changed to limit contamination to 0% (below detection limit), how do you expect the current labelling on your soy sauce products will change?

(1) If the detection limit is changed to 0%, the GM-Free label will be impossible to use, so we will stop using it. In that case, we would stop importing soybeans that are IP handled and change to start using GM soybeans that are not kept separate from GM-Free soybeans.

(2) We will change the label on our soy sauce explaining that “We use GM-Free soybeans that are kept separate from GM soybeans” and continue import using IP handling.

(3) Other

Replies:
Kikkoman (3) Other (Correspondence is currently being considered)

Yamasa (3) Other (We will continue import using the present IP handling but will consider it again in the future and have not decided)

Masada (3) Other (We will follow the administrative guidelines)

Higeta (3) Other (Correspondence is currently being considered)

Higashimaru (3) Other (We will make a judgement after the legal revision)

Question 3:

What kind of additional information regarding GM ingredients would you like to share with consumers that are considering buying your soy sauce?

Replies:

Kikkoman: The labelling space is limited, so we are considering concise and plain expressions that do not cause misunderstanding to be desirable.

Yamasa: We are listening to the detailed suggestions from the Consumer Agency. We wish that our customers will see the label and understand it.

Masada: We will make a judgement after the legal revision.

Higeta: The most important thing is that the consumer understands the label.

Higashimaru: We will make a judgement after the legal revision.