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

Nature.com: CRISPR, the disruptor

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

Japan Resources – No 169

Please click here CUJ-JR-169 for the latest issue of Japan Resources, our English newsletter.

In this issue we introduce our new campaign against genome-manipulated food, part of our strong resistance against GMOs in general. Field trials have started even though the government is slow to act to protect consumers or farmers. The debate about nuclear power is also high-lighted with Monju, the controversial fast-breeder reactor in Fukui Prefecture in the news.

We hope you will continue to stay updated with CUJ’s activities and news on our English website, and support our campaigns!


From the Editors: Resistance and Resilience
Campaign Against Genome-manipulated Food
Press Release: Appeal for World Food Day
Food Security: Japan’s Self-sufficiency Rate for Sesame Seed Only 0.1%
Is the Consumer Agency in Fact the Industry Agency?
Pluto and Monju
News Flash: Monju Reactor Set for Decommissioning Lacks Sodium Removal Method

Please download the PDF file or read it here on our English website.

Food Security: Japan’s Self-sufficiency Rate for Sesame Seed Only 0.1%

One of the main pillars of Consumers Union of Japan is that we care deeply about food safety, which is connected to food security issues. We constantly try to monitor food production and are concerned about how things are developing or rather, deteriorating. Sometimes, we are taken by surprise. So, when I read in the newsletter from the Kansai-based Yotsuba Group that Japan’s self-sufficiency rate for sesame seed has dropped to 0.1%, well, it turned out to be one of many such cases.

The main place for growing sesame seed is a small island called Kikaijima in Kagoshima prefecture, in southern Japan, part of the Amami Islands. Their white sesame is a local variety that accounts for around 70% of Japan’s total domestic sesame seed production. But, for several years, abnormal weather and especially rain from typhoons have wrecked havoc on the small island’s farms, due to global climate change. Volcanic activity nearby has also brought unusual levels of ash to the fields. Taken together, domestic sesame seed farming in Japan is currently in great danger.

Another example is the small citrus fruit called sudachi in Japanese (which is also grown in Peru). Just like sesame, this is an important ingredient in Japanese traditional cooking. But when I checked, the farmers tell me many of them are getting too old to continue growing this special product. Also, there are places where tea will no longer be grown unless efforts are made to seriously support local and regional farms as well as the companies that bring such wonderful gifts to the market. This is a serious issue we call “food security” which is fundamental when we start discussing “food safety” and other concerns. Consumers Union of Japan continues to be at the forefront of the debate to resolve these important issues.

By Ono Kazuoki, CUJ

December 18, 2017

Pluto and Monju

In the old Greek mythology, Pluto was name of the god that ruled the underworld, where souls go after death. Someone who has recently been thinking about this is Nakajima Tetsuen, the head priest of the Buddhist temple Myoutsuu in Obama City, Fukui Prefecture. He currently serves as the chairperson of a local group of citizens that oppose nuclear power in the prefecture.

In December, 2016 the decision was finally taken to decommission and scrap the infamous nuclear reactor called Monju in Tsuruga City, Fukui Prefecture. To celebrate this, the citizens met on November 5, 2017 where Mr. Nakajima explained: “We should not walk the path to hell of Pluto, but instead follow the path of the Buddha, which is the path of the living.”

In Obama City, there are no nuclear power plants, but nearby, as many as 15 reactors are located around Wakasa Bay. The reason is the strong opposition by people in Obama City, led by Mr. Nakajima. In other locations that accepted nuclear plants, a splendid gymnasium or huge hot spring facilities were built using special government grants, while Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples and old roads greet visitors to Obama City.

The priest of a Shingon temple with traditions dating back from the 9th century uses Buddhist teaching to communicate his message: “Maybe we can believe that Monju (also known as Manjushri) is a compassionate bodhisattva who will wake us all from the nightmare of multiplying hellish rulers…”

By Sugiura Yoko, CUJ

November 20, 2017

Is the Consumer Agency in fact the Industry Agency?

Criticism is rising regarding the government’s way of handling the meetings to examine the mandatory labelling of genetically modified organisms and GMO food, held by the Consumer Agency since April, 2017. The opinion of the Agency seems to be stuck with the idea that no changes need to be made to the current labelling regime, in spite of continued arguments that the system must be improved.

In particular, food oils do not need to be labelled because GMO cannot be detected in such products. Also, if the ingredients that require GMO labelling are under 5% of the total weight, they do not need to be labelled. This has in effect meant that most processed foods are not giving the consumers the information they want. Consumers Union of Japan has repeatedly demanded that all GMO foods that we do not regard as safe should be properly labelled so that consumers have full information and are guaranteed the right to choose.

It is noteworthy that all GMO foods and ingredients must be labelled in the European Union, including food oils. CUJ has also repeatedly pointed out that the limit for unintended contamination in the European Union is as low as 0.9%, compared to 5% in Japan, and 3% in Taiwan as well as South Korea.

At the Consumer Agency’s meetings, the commissioner has taken to echo the industry standpoint, saying: “We can’t change the labelling rule to a lower percentage level”. Indeed we are wondering why the ideas from over 15 years ago still are so entrenched and why the current meetings appear to be useless. The reason is the Consumer Agency itself. There is just no enthusiasm to improve the system. We are beginning to hear the opinion that an agency that ignores consumers while completely accepting the requests by producers should be renamed, and instead be known as the “Industry Agency”

By Koketsu Michiyo, CUJ

November 27, 2017