Category Archives: CUJ Eco Nico

Who Pays for Genome Editing and Gene Drive Research?

Controversial new genetic engineering technologies are being explored by researchers. Many doubts remain and the critics want a ban or a moratorium, especially on gene editing on human embryos. There is strong concern about letting out animals or insects, like mosquitos, into the wild. Genetically modified mosquitos are in fact only one of the first in a long line of projects. For example, genome editing and gene drives can be used to eradicate entire populations of animals. There are “terminator” projects underway to alter cattle so that only male offspring are born. No females. It is not difficult to imagine that it would become possible to do the same with certain groups of humans.

Now we are learning the scary truth about the secret financial backing for gene drives and other forms of genome editing. In early December, 2017 activists at Third World Network could reveal emails reporting how the US military is the top funding agency, having spent 100 million US dollar on gene drive research. The emails show that the shadowy US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is the key funder of efforts to develop gene drive mice. Also, lobbying funding has come from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Gene drives are a powerful and dangerous new technology and potential biological weapons could have disastrous impacts on peace, food security and the environment, especially if misused,” said Jim Thomas of ETC Group. Dana Perls of Friends of the Earth, U.S. notes: “Gene drives could have profound ecological, health and socio-economic impacts.” It makes a lot of sense to step up our campaign against these dangerous technologies. I’m proud of Consumers Union of Japan for taking the lead in this battle. We need more people and consumers to become aware of this difficult issue.

Read more:

ETC Group: The Gene Drive Files

MIT Technology Review: Meet the Woman Using CRISPR to Breed All-Male “Terminator Cattle”

IFOAM: The global organic food and farming movement calls for the regulation of new genetic engineering techniques as GMOs CRISPR, the disruptor

(English version of Martin’s essay published in CUJ’s Shouhisha Report No. 1605, January 2018)

Japan’s Booming Tourism Industry Needs A Reality Check

To be a tourist in Japan can be both wonderful and frustrating at the same time. There is a lot to discover and many truly beautiful places to visit. For people who come to Japan for the first time, the delicious food is always one of the highlights, even if most menus are still only printed in Japanese. Oh well, sometimes sign language and a nice smile will save the day. And a little confusion can be a fun story to tell, at a later date.

However, the Japanese government seems hell-bent on further increasing the number of foreign tourists, without any concern for the real problems.

Popular places like Nara and Kyoto suffer from severely over-crowded roads. Even near the most famous temples and shrines, there are no efforts to ban cars and facilitate pedestrian safety. Last fall I was surprised to see thousands of visitors stand in line to get to see the illumination at Kiyomizu Temple, while taxis and even large coach buses were trying to reach the same spots on the narrow slopes. It wasn’t chaotic, but if an emergency had happened, there would have been no way for an ambulance or fire trucks to arrive.

Tokyo has the only proper tourist information center to cover all of Japan, located in a small office near Tokyo Station, and while their website is very good, most tourists prefer to use guidebooks written by foreigners. Smaller offices elsewhere are understaffed and can’t deal with all kinds of requests. For over 13 million foreign visitors arriving to Japan in 2014, that is clearly not enough. But the government seems hell-bent on counting heads (and revenue) rather than really considering the consequences.

Tourism is a service industry with very direct consumer issues. Hotels that don’t have non-smoking rooms, or restaurants with poor service, can ruin the experience of an expensive over-sea trip. For example, how are tourists supposed to know that there is almost no space for suitcases on the Shinkansen? Many promises are made that cannot be kept, but there seems to be nowhere to turn with legitimate complaints.

(English version of Martin’s essay published in CUJ’s Shouhisha Report No. 1569)