Category Archives: Corporate Responsibility

Global People’s Summit on Food Systems — Against the UN Food System Summit

In September of this year (2021), the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres will convene the United Nations Food System Summit. In this international event with the goal of building a “healthier, more sustainable and equitable food system,” and in 2021 (in the midst of the United Nations Decade of Family Farming 2019-2028) the participation and input of people engaged in family farming and small-scale agriculture, who account for more than 80% of the world’s food production, should be a priority.

However, when concrete discussions began in 2020, the issues of human rights and land grabbing that small-scale farmer groups have been advocating were not at the center of the agenda, and corporations and related organizations that promote land concentration, monopolization of agricultural supply chains. Also the industrialization of food, including biotechnology, have had a significant influence on decision-making. In response to this, many civil society organizations have begun to take action and sent a joint letter demanding a review of the summit’s preparatory process, transparency in decision-making, and dialogue to achieve this, but no fundamental review has taken place. In March, a group of small-scale farmers from the Global South (Southeast Asia, South America, and Africa) announced their boycott of the summit and launched a counter-summit, the Global People’s Summit on Food Systems (GPS).

The following statement is the press release issued along with the declaration of this counter-summit. What is it that the world’s small-scale farmers, who hold the key to the future of agriculture, and the many civil society organizations that share their beliefs, want to address by boycotting the UN event?

Consumers Union of Japan is a member of the Stop Golden Rice Network (SGRN), one of the organizers of the Global People’s Summit on Food Systems.

In Japanese here

Facebook in English here

Statement from Hungry4Change here

Continue reading Global People’s Summit on Food Systems — Against the UN Food System Summit

Campaign to Reduce the Use of Plastics

Consumers Union of Japan is stepping up the campaign against plastic waste. We are asking major convenience stores and coffee shop chains what they are doing in Japan, as their stores in other countries appear to be moving faster to reduce the use of plastic containers and cups.

Questionnaire on Reusable Container Initiatives

To: Seven & I Holding, FamilyMart, Lawson, Starbucks Japan, Doutor Coffee

27 May 2021

According to media reports, reusable container initiatives are progressing overseas. For example, 7-Eleven in Taiwan has announced a plan to eliminate the use of all disposable plastics by 2050, and has introduced a reusable cup system in four of its stores. In addition, FamilyMart in Taiwan has also started selling lunch boxes in reusable containers. Furthermore, Starbucks in South Korea has announced that it will eliminate disposable cups by 2025. Some McDonald’s stores in London, UK have introduced reusable takeout cups that can be returned to other McDonald’s stores after the drink is finished.

We hope that Japanese companies will also promote reuse in order to reduce the use of single-use plastics. Therefore, we would like to ask you about your company’s efforts to reuse containers.

1) Please let us know the material of each of the beverage and food (lunch box, etc.) containers that you provide for both in-store and take-out.

2) Do you have any plans to change your take-out containers from one-way containers to reusable containers?

3) If the plastic recycling promotion bill currently being discussed in the Japanese Parliament is enacted, cutlery and straws may be legislated (reduced use) next year. Examples of legislation methods include charging a fee, point card promotion schemes, and switching to alternative materials. It has been shown that point card promotion schemes does not reduce the amount of plastic bags used. Also, switching to alternative materials will not reduce the amount of waste. We believe that charging a fee is the most effective way to reduce the amount of waste. Please let us know what your policy is.

 

Protest Against Genome Edited “GABA” Tomato in Tokyo, Japan

In what may have been the world’s first protest against a genome edited GMO food product, the GABA tomato, activists from Consumers Union of Japan and the No! GMO Campaign gathered outside Sanatech’s offices in central Tokyo, Japan on 23 December 2020.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter sent to Sanatech:

To: Sanatech Seed                                                                             14 December 2020

From: Consumers Union of Japan, No! GMO Campaign

Open Letter of Inquiry on Genome Edited High GABA* Tomatoes

We are a consumer organization that is working for food safety.

It has been reported that your company is distributing free of charge high GABA tomatoes produced with genome editing technology for home gardening. We believe that genome editing technology, like genetic modification technology, is potentially risky as it can cause unintentional genetic mutations and create unexpected harmful substances in crops. We are concerned that it is a big problem that genetically engineered foods, whose safety has not been fully confirmed, are being used for food.

We have some doubts about the explanatory materials that your company submitted to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) and posted on the MHLW website, and we believe that the act of free distribution for home gardening, as announced by your company on your website, is tantamount to human experimentation.

We would like to ask you a few questions about your explanatory materials and your thinking. We will publish your response on our website.

The biggest concern about GM crops is the production of unexpected harmful substances due to unintentional genetic mutations that occur in the process of genetic engineering. In relation to this, we would like to ask the following questions:

(1) In the explanatory materials, you say that you searched for off-target candidates using two methods and investigated mutations in areas common to both methods.

(2) Instead of narrowing down the off-target candidates, you should check all the genes to see if there are any off-target cases.

(3) In the description of the allergen confirmation, there is a phrase “where mutations were identified in the target sequence and off-targets,” which contradicts the explanation in the previous section that there were no off-targets.

(4) Allergen identification was performed only for the locations where mutations were identified in the target sequences and off-targets.

(5) Tomatin was analyzed and it is stated that “Since tomatin did not increase, it is assumed that the analogues of tomatin and other alkaloids did not increase as well.”

(6) Please disclose which substances were analyzed for changes in composition compared to the pre-genetically engineered crop, and what the results were.

2. We believe that the “substantial equivalence” assessment of genetically modified crops is not a guarantee of safety because it does not confirm the production of the unexpected harmful substances mentioned above. Genome edited crops are not subjected to “substantial equivalence” review, but it is tantamount to human experimentation to use them for food without any confirmation of safety. In relation to this, we would like to ask the following questions:

(1) An antibiotic resistance gene is used as a marker gene, and a cauliflower mosaic virus gene is used as a promoter gene. What kind of research has been conducted on the effects of these genes, which may lead to unexpected genetic mutations?

(2) Do you have any plans to conduct animal experiments to confirm the safety of the product?

(3) In the explanatory materials, it is stated that the recommended intake amount will be indicated when the product is put on the market, but how do you think it will affect pregnant women, people with underlying diseases, and infants with an underdeveloped blood-brain barrier?

(4) Do you think that consumers who apply for the free distribution of genome edited crops for home and garden use will do so after learning about the risks pointed out by consumer groups? Or will they only apply based on your explanation of safety?

(5) How do you plan to understand the health effects of high GABA tomatoes?

This genome edited tomato was developed as a national project. Since the taxpayers’ money has been invested in this project, there should be social responsibility based on this. We would like to ask a few questions regarding this point:

(1) How much funding was provided by the government?

(2) Why are you rushing to market before you have a social consensus?

(3) How much of your budget is used to acquire intellectual property rights?

(4) Please stop the free distribution of high GABA tomatoes without sufficient safety confirmation.

* GABA = Gamma-AminoButyric Acid

Read more about the GABA tomato over at Citizen’s Biotechnology Information Center Japan’s first genome-edited food item, a tomato, gets green light for distribution

Open Letter of Inquiry Regarding the Handling of Genome-Edited Foods

From:

No! GMO Campaign
Amagasa Keisuke

Consumers Union of Japan
Kazuko Ohno
Michiyo Koketsu

To:

Major Food Companies in Japan

12 November 2020

Open Letter of Inquiry Regarding the
Handling of Genome-Edited Foods

We are citizens’ groups campaigning against the use of genetically modified technology in food.

Genetically modified crops are subject to a very simple safety review called “Substantial Equivalence,” despite the fact that the GM technology relies heavily on random events and can produce toxic substances due to unexpected genetic changes. More than 20 years have passed since genetically modified foods were first distributed in Japan, but not only are these concerns still unresolved. The labeling of genetically modified foods lags behind the rest of the world, with most genetically modified foods on the market not being labeled.

In such a situation, a new type of so-called genome edited food has emerged. The Japanese government has decided on a policy of no prior notifications, no safety reviews, and no labeling requirements for genome edited foods, as long as no foreign genes remain in the food. However, it is known that genome-edited foods can also cause off-target and other unexpected genetic changes. Consequently, the explanation that they are the same as mutations in nature is wrong. Genome-edited crops are reportedly already being cultivated and distributed in the United States, and the development of genome-edited animals and plants is underway in Japan and abroad. It is uncertain when they will start to be distributed in Japan as well. If genome-edited food is distributed without labeling, it would not be possible for consumers to purchase food products without concern.

In light of this situation, we have decided to ask food manufacturers in Japan what their current awareness and intentions are. Please respond to the attached questionnaire.

Your answers should be in writing by the end of November 2020. You can send us your answers by mail or by email. In addition, we will publish your answers, including whether or not you answered, so please do not hesitate to contact us.

Questions

Question 1: What do you think about foods produced with genome-editing technology?

Please circle one reply and leave any comments in the space provided below.

1) We think we should take a cautious approach in consideration of safety.
2) We will consider the issue in the future.
3) We believe that there are no safety problems since the country has evaluated it.
4) We are not particularly aware of genome-editing.
5) Other

Question 2: Do you plan to handle foods produced with genome-editing technology?

1) No, we do not plan to handle them.
2) There are no plans to handle them at this time, but no policy has been decided.
3) We plan to handle them or are considering it.
4) We are neither undecided or unaware of the issue of genome-editing.
5) Other

Question 3: Have you had any problems with genome-edited foods?

1) We do not handle genome-edited food products, but we are concerned about checking raw materials and ingredients.
2) We are planning to handle or are considering handling them, but we are concerned about whether consumers will be concerned.
3) We have no concerns.
4) Other

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Glyphosate on Soybeans in Hokkaido?

Consumers Union of Japan got this very brief reply from conventional soybean growers in Hokkaido, represented by Hokuren Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives, founded in 1919 in Sapporo, Japan:

Thank you very much for your valuable comments and suggestions.

All of the agricultural products handled by the Federation are produced in compliance with the Pesticide Control Law and are used in an appropriate manner.

Thank you very much for your understanding.

 

This was in response to our request to cease pre-harvest glyphosate use in soybeans as well as an open questionnaire on its use (March 17, 2020)

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From Consumers Union of Japan                        March 17, 2020.

To:

Hokuren Federation of Agricultural Cooperative
Mr. Kazuyuki Uchida, Chairman of the Board

From:

No! GMO Campaign
Keisuke Amagasa
Consumers Union of Japan (CUJ)
Keisuke Amagasa, Co-Chairman
Kazuki Ono, Co-Chairman

Request to stop using pre-harvest glyphosate in soybeans as well as a questionnaire on its use

We are a consumer organization that is committed to food safety. We have taken a variety of initiatives to oppose genetically modified and genome-edited foods. We call for prudence in the use of pesticides associated with GMOs. In particular, in recent years, the toxicity of glyphosate herbicides has become apparent, and as regulations have progressed worldwide, the monitoring of these herbicides has been intensified.

The No! GMO Campaign sent you a questionnaire on October 7, 2019 regarding the application of the harvest herbicide glyphosate on soybeans, and we received an email response on the 29th of the same month. Subsequently, when our campaign conducted a residue survey of glyphosate in soybeans, glyphosate was detected in your Federation’s Hokkaido-grown soybeans.

There is widespread concern among consumers about glyphosate residues. We would like to request that you, as a Federation, instruct your member farmers to stop the use of glyphosate in soybeans before harvest.

We also ask the following questions. We apologize for the inconvenience, but please send us your response in writing by March 31. The responses will be published on the website of CUJ.

1. In your response on October 29 2019, you stated that you “will continue to raise awareness of the proper use of glyphosate in compliance with the contents of the government’s registration”, and you recommend the spraying of glyphosate before harvesting soybeans.

2, In the wake of the results in 2015 showing a direct causal link between glyphosate and cancer by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), there has been a spate of lawsuits by victims in the United States, with agrochemical company Bayer losing one case after another. Are you aware of this fact?

3. Following the lawsuits in the United States, lawsuits were filed by victims in Canada and Australia, and their use has been banned or regulated in many countries and municipalities, including EU countries. Considering such a situation, we do not think that the logic that just because the Japanese government approves of it makes much sense.

4, We, the consumers, have come to believe that domestic non-GMO soybeans are safe because many imported soybeans are genetically modified, and genome-edited soybeans are appearing in the United States. However, with the detection of glyphosate in soybeans grown in Hokkaido, there is a concern that they will no longer be safe because just because they are grown in Japan. Could you provide guidance to stop using glyphosate before harvesting? When, if at all, do you plan to give guidance on termination of the use of glyphosate as a pre-harvest herbicide? If you do not do it, please tell us why.

WHO: IARC Monograph on Glyphosate