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