In June 2009, there were renewed efforts in North America to introduce genetically modified wheat for commercial cultivation. Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, a citizen group based in Ottawa, started a global campaign to reject GM wheat. By January, 2010, some 177 groups from 23 countries have signed the appeal to stop the commercialization of GM wheat. We are pleased to see that groups in Europe, Asia and South America have also joined the campaign.
In 2004, when Monsanto first applied for permission to sell GM wheat to farmers in the United States and Canada, our No! GMO Campaign led the efforts to stop the cultivation. We visited farmers and companies in the US and Canada, explaining that Japan would not buy GM wheat. If this did not stop Monsanto, we found that the strong push from Japan’s flour milling industry had the desired effect. At that time, the wheat importers made a strong and unified appeal to reject Monsanto’s GM wheat.
We decided to once again confirm the status of the Japanese flour milling industry, to make sure that their opinion has not changed. In December, 2009 we sent a questionnaire to 24 companies that are members of the Seifun Kyoukai (Japan’s Flour Millers Association). We also included a strongly worded statement, emphasizing that consumers in this country do not want to eat foods made with genetically modified wheat.
We received replies from 9 companies by December 25, 2009. We did not get answers directly from any of the large flour companies, but instead we were pleased that Seifun Kyoukai, the major flour milling association, sent a reply on behalf of their member companies. 3 companies referred to the reply from the flour milling association in their letters to us, noting: “Japan’s Flour Millers Association has published a statement rejecting GM wheat, and our company also does not handle GM wheat.”
Question 1: Do you know about genetically modified (GM) food?
Question 2: In May 2009, 10 wheat-related associations, including the American, Australian and Western Canadian wheat associations, announced that they request commercial cultivation of GM wheat as soon as possible. Did you know about this?
Question 3: Presently, there is no GM wheat on the market, but should it happen in the future, and it is sold [in Japan], do you think GM labelling will be necessary?
Question 4: In the future, should GM wheat become commercially available, will your company import it?
Yes, we want to import it 0
No, we do not want to import it 2
It depends on the demands of the [Japanese] consumers (5 companies)
It depends on the attitudes of the flour industry as a whole (1 company)
Question 5: Are you aware of the cross-contamination and environmental pollution which can be expected in case GM wheat is cultivated?
The No! GMO Campaign has compared the results of this questionnaire in December, 2009 to our previous one in March, 2004. At that time, we sent the questionnaire to 15 companies, and received replies from 7 different companies. In 2004, all 7 replied that GM wheat should be labelled. 5 out of 7 stated that they did not want to import GM wheat, while this time, not a single company replied that they would like to import GM wheat. We are concerned about the fact that several companies stated that they do not know about the risks associated with GM wheat.
We also received a letter from the person in charge at Japan’s Flour Millers Association. He noted that the answer to questions 1 and 2 is yes, and that in response to question 3, the most important issue is to “obey the law.” As for question 5, he noted: “We have to expect that cross-contamination of GM crops will happen.”
Also, he noted: “Under the present circumstances, with all the doubts about safety and the environment that the consumers in Japan have, including the effect on the human body from GM foods, GM wheat is included among the items that are not acceptable for the Japanese market. We believe that it will be difficult to know if the wheat flour and products are made with GM wheat or not, but such products would have to be clearly labelled.”
Wheat is something that is essential for our daily sustenance, just like rice. Together with citizen groups and consumer organizations from around the world, we will continue to carefully monitor the misguided attempts to introduce GM wheat.
No! GMO Campaign