GM lobby running scared in Japan (12/8/2004)


1.Background on GM in Japan
3.Trend: Serious GM canola pollution in Kashima port, Ibaraki Prefecture

1.Background: GM in Japan

Since 1996 consumer resistance to GM has been growing in Japan, where millions of signatures have been gathered for petitions opposing GM food and crops. Following successful citizens' actions to halt GM rice trials, Japanese corporations have abandoned domestic GM rice research. Japanese resistance was also a critical element in Monsanto's decision to abandon plans to commercialise GM wheat worldwide. At the moment there is a focus on volunteer GM oilseed rape which is springing up around Japanese ports (see below).

GM Rice Watch
No! GMO Campaign
"From 21 to 28 March 2004, a group of six Japanese consumer representatives, including representatives from the No! GMO Campaign, visited Canada and the USA to present a petition to opposing the GM wheat to the Canadian federal government and a state government of the USA (North Dakota). The petition was signed by 414 organizations representing over 1.2 million Japanese people. It is thought that this visit and the submission of the petition had a very strong effect on public and official thinking in the two countries.

Effectively this means that Japanese consumer pressure has been successful in forcing Monsanto to suspend development of both GM rice and GM wheat. The company has tried to sell its GM crops to the world using its financial and political power, but it has now been shown that if Japanese consumers form strong links with and fight alongside people all over the world they will not be beaten."
Citizens' Biotech Information Centre

3.From Bio Journal 2004

Trend: Serious GM canola pollution in Kashima port, Ibaraki Prefecture

Recent revelations show that imported GM canola seeds have been spilled around Kashima port in Ibaraki prefecture, and that the GM canola pollution has been spreading. The Japan Wildlife Research Centre and others have established 13 checking points near busy crossroads within a 5 kilometre radius of the port, at 3-5 points and at distances 50 metres times the width of the sidewalk. The tests were conducted for 2 years at a total of 48 locations.

According to the MAFF announcement on 29 June 2004, a May 2002 investigation revealed that western oilseed rape has been growing wild at 25 of 48 locations. 15 cases out of 16 were confirmed to be imported canola, the one exception not being analysable. Moreover, 7 out of 20 seeds and 2 out of 7 plants were shown to be GM varieties.

According to an investigation in February, 2003, western oil seed rape was confirmed at 23 out of 48 locations (2 locations were different from the previous year). There was possible GM canola reseeding at 17 out of 23 confirmed locations. Consequently, the investigation will continue due to difficulties involved with identification.

Currently, the Ministry of Environment is also investigating the case. Presumably, the GM canola pollution is spreading throughout the Kanto district, and GM plants are possibly growing wild around other unloading ports, such as Kobe port. MAFF said that it was assumed that a situation like this would occur, so it is not an issue.

Negative Fallout From Public Sentiment In Japan
- Kazuo N. Watanabe et al., Nature Biotechnology 22, 943 (2004)

To the editor: As concerned plant scientists at major plant science research institutions in Japan, we would like to express our collective concern over the impact of Japanese public resistance to plant genetic engineering on the actions of local and national government. We are concerned that negative public sentiment could translate into government actions that will compromise overall competitiveness and research and development capability in the plant sciences.[there's so much potential in plant sciences other than genetic engineering that this is truly pathetic. in any case, robust innovative technologies (like good science) can only benefit from scepticism and dissent]

For example, at the prefecture level, the local government in Hokkaido (a major region of agriculture) is currently formulating a bill scheduled for 2005 to ban planting genetically modified (GM) crops approved by the national Japanese authorities. The Tokyo metropolitan government and local farmers have already stopped the field assessment of a transgenic potato line at an experimental field in Tanashi city, Tokyo, apparently solely on the basis of negative public perception. These actions appear to have unsubstantiated fears that such planting might affect the local agriculture economy1. We fear that they bring Japanese plant science [it's come to something when one narrow set of procedures, ie GE, equate to the whole of plant sciene!] closer to a critical situation in which research not only in the field but also in the laboratory will be threatened. At the national level, negative public sentiment may also affect funding allocation by the Japanese government in the plant sciences as a whole [try offering the government more productive avenues of research with a public mandate and a market!].

We urge Japanese political leaders not to abandon a technology that is readily being adopted by countries outside of Europe and could positively contribute to economic growth in Japan [???]. Politicians have a responsibility to respect and honor the concerns of their electorate, but also should respect scientific consensus that genetic engineering is as safe as any other technology.


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