Japan 2004 - Review of the year (4/1/2005)

Here's another GM Watch review of the past year.

The third in this series is on Japan. It also refers to the 'Rice is Life' tour of China. The author, Akiko Frid, took part in that tour.

Since 1998 Akiko has been a regular contributor to the monthly newsletter of the Japanese campaign group, NO! GMO Campaign.
[email protected]

Akiko is also a translator for Japan's Citizens' Biotechnology Information Center (CBIC)
[email protected]

For links to other articles in the REVIEW OF THE YEAR series, see below this article.

The anti-GMO movement in Japan in 2004

Consumers in Japan have been very active opposing GMO since 1996, and have achieved several notable victories over the years, including the successful citizens' campaign to stop Monsanto's GM rice in Aichi prefecture in December 2002 - "Monsanto failed halfway in developing herbicide tolerant rice in Japan"

In December 2003 there was a similar victory in Iwate prefecture - "Citizens succeed in stopping Iwate prefecture's GM rice!"

And in 2004, there came the most remarkable victory of all, after Japanese consumers visited Canada and the USA to present a petition opposing the commercialisation of 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. The headline says it all, "Monsanto suspends development of herbicide resistant GM wheat".

People power brought the global biotech juggernaught to a grinding halt. And Keisuke Amagasa from NO! GMO Campaign pointed out that the extraordinary level of consumer resistance in Japan to the new GM crop arose from what people in Japan had already had to suffer, "If GM wheat is approved and cultivated in both countries, which provide Japan with most of the wheat imports, our dining tables will be exposed once again to the risk of occupation by Monsanto GM wheat, just as they are now under occupation by the GM soybean." -"International Solidarity to Oppose GM Food" - http://www.no-gmo.org/new/2004/4316.htm

The Japanese diet has been polluted by Monsanto's GM soybeans since the Japanese government first approved Monsanto's herbicide tolerant soybean for import into the country in 1996. At first, it was only approved for animal feed (1996), but later (2001) it was approved for food use as well. http://www.s.affrc.go.jp/docs/sentan/guide/edevelp.htm

In Japan, soybeans are used for traditional home cooking. People eat soybeans all the time. To give you an example, I personally like eating tofu (soybean curd), natto (fermented soybeans), abura-age (fried tofu) and okara (bean curd refuse) when I eat rice, together with miso-shiru (bean paste soup). Miso is fermented soybean paste and it is used for different dishes as flavour enhancer as well. Just like syoyu (soy sauce), we use soybean based products a lot every day.

That is why consumers demanded from the beginning that GM food be properly labelled, but the Japanese labelling standard, which came into force in April 2001, was not satisfactory for consumers, since it only covers "ingredients that are ranked within the top 3 constituents in terms of the ratio of weight they occupy, and the weight ratio of which account for 5 or more percent of the total". http://www.maff.go.jp/soshiki/syokuhin/hinshitu/organic/eng_yuki_gmo.pdf

As a result, only 30 products are subjected to the standard. This is nowhere near enough for Japanese consumers, who want to avoid eating GM foods altogether. To make matters worse, most of the GMO ingredients are used for soy sauce and cooking oil, which are not covered by the labelling standard. A recent survey that was conducted in Hokkaido prefecture showed, "82.5% of respondents feel more or less insecure about eating GM foods".

A further problem with the Japanese GM food labelling standard is that it is ok to label something as "not produced with GM ingredients", even if the product contains up to 5 % GM ingredients! This is completely misleading for consumers.

Unsurprisingly, on 4 August 2004, The National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan announced that they had found GM genes in over 60% of tofu products labelled "non-use of GM soybeans"

NO! GMO Campaign also checked some tofu products that also bore the "non-use of GM soybeans" label, and discovered that while products that were also labelled "domestic soybeans" were clear of GM contamination, others did have traits of GM soybeans. Asahi shimbun, one of the leading national newspapers in Japan, published an article on September 15, 2004, about this news headlined "a natural scepticism over GM food labelling - - why 'non-use' even though it contains (GM)?" (unofficial translation).

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) told Asahi shimbun, "Even though ingredients are segregated, a certain level of co-mingling would occur, therefore, when the standard was made, we conducted a test to see how much comtamination occurred among the segregated products, then decided to set a threshold of 5%, which was thought workable in practice".

However, a tofu maker told Asahi shimbun that they had introduced their own regular spot-check that could detect even 0.01% contamination. This tofu maker is using Canadian soybeans and always demands a written guarantee that it is purchasing NON-GM soybeans. A food labelling adviser told Asahi shimbun, "A review of the standard is needed".

Asahi shimbun also interviewed NO! GMO Campaign's Keisuke Amagasa who warrned that the problem of GM comtamination would only worsen over time. The NO! GMO Campaign, as well as many other consumers groups all over Japan, are demanding that the government revise the threshold to be at least the same as the EU level, which is currently set as 0.9%.

Keisuke Amagasa also pointed out that conventional seeds are under serious thread of increasing GM pollution - and so too is biodiversity. In Japan, it has been reported that GM oil seed rape (OSR - also known as canola) was found growing wild in several areas around ports. There are 10 ports in Japan where OSR seeds are imported from Canada. Among the 10, GM OSR has so far been confirmed as growing around 6 of the ports by local citizens groups including:
- Stop GM Seeds Network Japan
- GMO Information Service Japan
- Anti-GM Rice Farmers Network

Related articles can be found here:
- GM rapeseed found around ports (The Japan Times, Nov 21, 2004)
- GM corn, soybeans found growing wild (The Japan Times, Dec 14, 2004)
- Rapeseed, corn, and soybean grown wild in Shimizu Port in Shizuoka
(JCPRESS, Dec 20, 2004)

As you can see, Japanese consumers are not only concerned about eating GM foods, but are also worried about GM pollution. A research team lead by Nobuyoshi Nakajima at the National Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES), conducted an investigation on GM canola (OSR) pollution. The purpose of the research is to find out:
1) how much GM canola actually exists in the environment;
2) whether herbicide tolerant genes

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