Category Archives: Biotechnology

Japan-South Korea-Taiwan Joint Statement on RNA Interference Potato

On 18 May 2019, Anti-Monsanto Day, Japan, South Korean and Taiwanese citizens’ organizations taking action against GMOs announced a joint statement protesting against a potato developed by J. R. Simplot Company using RNA interference. South Korea is very close to approving this potato and there is a possibility that Taiwan will also approve it.
In Japan, the potato is already approved for distribution as human food, but as it has yet to receive approval under the Cartagena laws, it cannot yet be cultivated. There is a possibility that the potato will be imported as fried potatoes or potato chips. Because of this, Consumers Union of Japan and other organizations are calling on fast food chains and family restaurant chains not to use the potato.
RNA interference is a technique to inhibit gene expression or translation. It was first discovered in 1998.

Please Join Our One Million Signature Petition Campaign: “Regulate All Gene-edited Food!”

Dear Friends and Fellow Anti-GMO Campaigners,

Please Join Our One Million Signature Petition Campaign:
“Regulate All Gene-edited Food!”

In March 2019, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare of Japan
concluded that no regulation is needed for most of gene-edited food to
be sold in Japan. The Ministry of the Environment also announced its
decision to require regulation only for limited gene-edited food using
created with specific processes. Consequently, some sources expect
gene-edited food to be available as early as this summer of 2019 in
Japan.

We, Consumers Union of Japan, together with concerned grassroots
organizations and Co-ops across Japan, have been advocating the
strictest possible regulation at a level that is at least equal to GMO
regulations over the last few years, but our voice has not been
reflected in the government’s decision making as of now. Our demand is
fully in accordance with our consumers’ rights stipulated in the Basic
Act on Consumers Policies.

We are highly concerned about this situation. No regulation means
basically no enforced safety tests, no transparency and no labelling.
Due in part to the fact that Japan is a country with less than 40% of
food self-sufficiency, consumers can only expect a marketplace that is a
virtual hell filled with uncontrolled gene-edited food produced possibly
both domestically and globally, unless we take action.

We have decided that now is the time to scale up our campaign. As we
launch this One Million Signature Petition Campaign throughout Japan, we
have a request to our global friends and colleagues.

1. If you share our concerns and support our petition (below) addressed to the Japanese government, then please email (nogeneediting@nishoren.org) your name and title or the full name of your organization, the country which you are based and also the contact person name. The collected signatures will be submitted to the Government of Japan in September 2019 when we will hand over our signatures to it.

[Organization]
Name of organization:
Contact person:
Country:
Email:

[Individual]
Your name:
Title:
Country:
Email:

2. We are collecting pictures with the banner indicating “Regulate All
Gene-edited Food!” We welcome your pictures with the banner attached in
this email, or any banner you have. It will be great to see the key
message in your language, together with English message.
Please send us the picture to the email address (nogeneediting@nishoren.org). We greatly appreciate your solidarity and collaboration.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at the office
of Consumers Union of Japan.

Sincerely,
Keisuke Amagasa, Michiyo Koketsu, Kaori Hirouchi and Martin J. Frid
The Anti-GMO Campaign International Coordinators, Consumers Union of Japan

To:
Mr. Nemoto Takumi, Minister of Health, Labor, and Welfare
Mr. Yoshikawa Takamori, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
Mr. Harada Yoshiaki, Minister of the Environment
Mr. Okamura Kazumi, Commissioner of Consumer Affairs Agency

We strongly demand proper regulations for gene-edited food
As we learn that unpredicted results could occur by a gene-editing
method, including “off-target” effects, our concern over the
technology and its impact on our food has not been cleared. However,
both Ministry of the Environment and Ministry of Health, Labor and
Welfare decided that gene-edited organisms are not regulated by law
unless external genes remain in the organism.  The food with voluntary
registration with no enforced labelling system and no environmental
assessment could soon on our table.
Our right to know, our right to choose and our right to live a healthy
life are now at risk. We strongly demand that environmental assessment,
food safety inspection and labelling on all gene-edited food without
exception.

We demand:
1. Mandatory environmental impact assessment for all gene-edited food
including crops and other produces, livestock and fish.

2. Mandatory food safety assessment for all gene-edited crops and other
produces, livestock and fish.

3. Mandatory labeling for all gene-edited crops, other produces, and
processed food that contain gene-edited ingredients.
———————————————————————-

Nationwide Chinese Consumer Study: 46.7% of Respondents Negative View on GM Food

China has reached a decision point as to whether it should accept, reject, or go slow with the use of genetically modified (GM) technology to produce the food and feed needed to sustain its population growth and economic renaissance. Here, we report a consumer survey on GM food that includes input from all provinces in China. Chinese consumers were surveyed for their awareness, knowledge, and opinion on GM food. The survey resulted in 11.9, 41.4, and 46.7% of respondents having a positive, neutral, or negative view on GM food, respectively.

Genetically modified (GM) technology is a highly controversial topic for today’s global food consumer. The commercial development of GM crops began in 1996 with GM corn and has expanded every year with the cultivation of GM crops.

Chinese food safety scandals have been a growing concern for Chinese consumers in recent years. The incidences of illegal “gutter oil” used in cooking, pesticide residue contamination, use of feed additives and polluted water along the food chain are common problems and even with proper regulatory oversight, the risk for criminal activity is ever present. The consumers in China, as well as consumers in other parts of the world, are increasingly risk adverse and seek out “clean, natural food”.

Public perception of genetically-modified (GM) food: A Nationwide Chinese Consumer Study

npj Science of Foodvolume 2, Article number: 10 (2018)

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41538-018-0018-4

CUJ Public Comment about Genome Editing Techniques for Food

On February 21, 2019, Consumers Union of Japan submitted the following public comment in response to the Japanese government’s GM Food, etc. Investigative Panel of the Pharmaceutical Affairs and Food Sanitation Council, Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) regarding the handling of food modified by genome editing.

Consumers Union of Japan is working for a sound and healthy future for all. This is why we are active in protecting our surrounding environment and the safety of our daily food. We believe this is what the Japanese government also wants. However, there are reports that the government has concluded that the Food Sanitation Law will not apply to food obtained through genome editing, thus giving up the important focus to protect the environment while also protecting food safety. CUJ finds this unacceptable. Therefore, we request that you withdraw the report and redo the deliberation from the beginning.

These are our reasons:

  1. It is not possible to avoid off target influence and mosaic effects through genome editing. There are numerous studies that confirm this. The current conclusion contradicts data about such influences and effects by treating them in an overly optimistic way. After a serious change has occurred it will be too late to take action.
  2. Through genome editing, epigenetic changes (heritable changes in gene expressions) have been reported to take place, something you hardly mention in your report. We can’t help wondering if you are simply imagining that such a problem cannot happen.
  3. When inserting genes, and then removing them during the crossing stages, we assume that regulation is required. But even if the introduced genes are removed, there is no guarantee that they have been removed 100%, and that there does not remain any influence. Moreover, we have not heard that any safety studies have been done to make sure that such practices actually work as intended or that safety can be secured. We have big misgivings about the advancement of such technologies while the scientific basis appear to be so weak.
  4. The process of dealing with this by the Food Sanitation Law was compared to the safety examination of genetically modified food. Genome editing is also a genetic technology, but it differs fundamentally from DNA recombination technologies. Many more and various new vegetable or plant breeding experiments will now take place. New legal restrictions are needed for this. We cannot accept that no effort will be made to maintain the safety of our food supply by the government’s current policy approach.
  5. The Food Sanitation Law has a huge influence also on how food is labelled. If the labelling requirements are affected by the current conclusion, and no labelling is required, it will remove the consumer’s right to know and choose. This is a large and important responsibility for the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.

 

Consumers Union of Japan

Nishi Waseda 1-9-19-207

Shinjuku-Ku, Tokyo

Japan 169-0051

 

Essay: GM in Europe vs. Japan

I took part in the 9th GMO-Free Europe Conference which was held on 6th and 7th of September 2018 as one of three delegates from GMO No! Campaign, which has been campaigning against GMOs with the Consumers Union of Japan.  More than 200 participants not only from Europe, but also from Africa, Asia, North America gathered in Berlin to discuss GM issues.

Until I visited Berlin, I did not know much about the situation surrounding GM issues in Europe. What I was told before my departure was that in the EU, food made of GM ingredients were hardly available because of mandatory labelling requirement for GM foods; also, European people are averse to such foods, therefore food companies do not sell products made of GM ingredients.  I, being a skeptic, could not believe it, because Japanese situation is completely opposite, and it is so difficult to buy food without GM ingredients unless you do your shopping online or go to natural food shops.  When I realized that what I was told was true, I was shocked!  In order to avoid GM food in Japan, you need to know labelling rules and their loopholes, but most Japanese are kept ignorant of these.  Therefore, most of us end up eating large amount of GM food without being aware of that, or even worse believing that they don’t eat such food, as the rules are far from clear.

In one part of the world, GM-free foods are readily available, so people there eat those foods effortlessly, whereas in other part, conscious efforts are required in order to buy such foods, otherwise people eat food of which health impact is not fully understood.  Isn’t this terrible?  If there is no change of policy, Japanese kids might be more prone to be ill due to GM foods and other nasty stuff.  Will the place of birth determine the health and fate of children?  I suspect that Japanese kids cannot enjoy the same level of health that children in the EU are entitled to.

A few weeks before the Berlin conference, the decision by the European Court of Justice came out, in which the ECJ ruled that gene editing techniques would be subject to the same regulations as GMOs, hence plants and animals obtained by genome editing would need to go through the requirements of risk assessment and authorization.  The decision was, according to many GMO activists who attended the conference, needless to say, very welcome, but also unexpected.

In contrast, Japan seems to be heading to a completely opposite direction.  An experts’ panel for the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan proposed that most of the foods developed using gene-editing can be marketed without safety assessment.  Furthermore, those foods could be placed on the market without appropriate labels.  The outcome could be devastating for the health of people living in Japan and the environment.

Taking part in the conference gave me good opportunities to compare Japan and outside world.  I would like Japan to prioritise protection of human health and environment, based on the precautionary principle like the EU does.  Regretfully, the priorities of Japan, or more notably the Abe administration, are the economic growth and the protection of interest of multinational companies, sacrificing the health of Japanese people and the quality of the environment in this county.  Empowering Japanese NGOs might provide a key to facilitate changes in Japanese society.  There must be so many lessons we can learn from European experiences.

By Ryoko Matsuno, a member of the GMO No! Campaign & CUJ board member