Public Hearing on Genome-Edited Foods in Japan

Today, Consumers Union of Japan and our campaign against genetically modified foods, the No! GMO Campaign, which began in 1996, is participating in a public hearing in the Japanese Parliament about the status of genome-edited foods. We are concerned about the current trend to bypass legislation to introduce untested genome-edited fish and other foods. Also, we are outraged that there is no food labelling for these products, which further undermines consumers’ trust in novel applications of GMOs. We will present signatures in support of our petition campaign to label all seeds and seedlings of genome-edited foods to the relevant ministries of the Japanese government at the public hearing.

Here is a brief update on the current trend and our activities:

Status of Genome Edited Fish and Consumers Union of Japan (CUJ) Activities

February 8 2022

(1) About the genome-edited mackerel developed by Kyushu University

Using a novel genetic engineering technique known as TALEN, rather than CRISPR/Cas9, Kyushu University is developing a genome-edited mackerel with reduced aggression. Kyushu University has overcome the obstacle of genome editing of mackerel, a non-model organism that is difficult to handle, and established a mutant strain. According to Kyushu University, it has been confirmed that aggression has been reduced and breeding efficiency has been improved. They claim that a comprehensive phenotypic analysis of the meat quality and growth rate is scheduled to be conducted after this spring, and the usefulness of the product will be evaluated.

When CUJ sent a letter of inquiry about this genome-edited mackerel to the research group at Kyushu University in March last year, they replied that they would obtain the base sequence information of the entire genome and that they plan to conduct food safety tests through animal experiments. (If you have further questions please contact us.)

(2) Miyazu City, Kyoto Prefecture, Offers Genome-edited Tiger Puffer Fish as a Hometown Tax Return Gift

In Japan, there is a system called “Furusato (home town) tax refund gift” that allows people to make donations to local governments that they want to support. You do not have to be from a specific hometown or a resident to make a donation. In addition to getting a tax refund or deduction, donations made through the Furusato tax system are popular because the local government provides you with special products and accommodation vouchers as a thank-you gift. On January 31, we sent a letter to Miyazu City, Kyoto Prefecture, asking them to stop providing genome-edited tiger puffer fish as a thank-you gift for Furusato taxpayers. Currently, we are calling on citizens all over Japan via social networking sites to raise their voices to ask Miyazu City to stop offering genome-edited tiger puffer fish as a Furusato tax refund gift.

(3) Responses From Conveyor-belt Sushi Chains

CUJ sent a questionnaire to 18 food companies, including conveyor-belt sushi chains, if they would handle genome-edited fish. Six companies responded. Of the six companies, three responded that they do not use genome-edited fish, and one responded that they do not plan to use it at this time, but have not decided on a policy. One company responded, “We do not plan to use it at this time, but have not decided our policy.” The conveyor-belt sushi chain that announced the joint development of genome-edited fish responded, “At this time, we have not established a clear policy, so we refrain from answering.”

However, some reports have suggested that the company will consider using genome edited fish within the group or selling it to outside parties, so we think this is an extremely problematic response from the company.