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Food Safety Citizens' Watch
English Newsletter

Issue # 2, Illegal GM food imports September 2005

Food Safety Citizens'Watch was established in April 2003 as a network of experts to monitor developments and make proposals to the government regarding food safety issues from the citizen's point of view.
Influx of illegal GM crops following one after the other?
Unapproved GM corn from the United States

Several varieties of genetically modified (GM) crops that have not yet been approved as safe in Japan have been grown abroad. They now seem to enter Japan one after the other. Furthermore, it has been difficult to check the actual influx, and we feel the safety of our food supply is seriously threatened.

On March 22, 2005, the U.S. Embassy in Japan reported that Syngenta, a Swiss corporation, had sold a GM corn variety called "Bt10" to U.S. farmers, even though it was not yet approved in the U.S. This crop has also not yet been approved by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The following day, the internet edition of Nature magazine published an article about this news. It seems that the U.S. found out that the article would disclose that the U.S. government had already known about the Bt10 contamination since December, 2004, and this fact made them feel obliged to inform the Japanese government.

In 2000 a similar contamination problem occurred with Starlink, also an unapproved variety of GM corn. As experts pointed out harmful characteristics, there was not a single country that approved it as food. Starlink was developed by Bayer Crop Science, a German company, and there were reports that it was causing allergies and other harmful reactions. Only the U.S. had approved it as animal feed, thus allowing it to be grown. It then entered the food supply and circulated around the world. Of course it also flowed into Japan, where it was detected in food. This led to an uproar of protests. In fact, it was not the government, but a citizen's group that discovered that Starlink corn had entered Japan.

The recent case of Bt10 this year seems to be more serious. Bt10 has not been approved, either as animal feed or food, anywhere in the world. Even so, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency all made comments that downplayed safety problems and even suggested that the area under cultivation was so small that there would be almost no influence. It was also clear that there would be no recall of the harvested Bt10 corn. The U.S. is chosing to promote its commodities, rather than to show concern for the safety of consumers. The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries echoed the view that there was no particular problem.

This was in contrast to the rapid response from the European Commission. On April 15, 2005, the EU promptly banned imports of corn and even animal feed with corn gluten or ethanol by-products made from corn, in case there is any trace of Bt10 found in the imported corn. In reality, this means a de facto ban on all U.S. corn to Europe.

The serious Bt10 problem was addressed in a discussion in late May between citizens and representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. During this discussion, it was announced that tests had not detected Bt10 yet. However, on June 1, 2005, the Japanese government finally announced that it had indeed detected Bt10 in a cargo of imported corn that had been unloaded at Nagoya port on May 26, 2005.
Unapproved GM rice imported from China?
On April 13, 2005, Greenpeace International held a press conference in Beijing, to announce that there was a possibility that unapproved GM rice had been exported from China to other countries, including Japan. After having talked to sales staff and agricultural producers, it was found that such GM rice seed might have been sold for the past two years. Approx. 950-1200 tons may have been produced and sold already. Japan imports over 121,000 ton rice from China, according to trade statistics from the Chinese government in 2003. Japan is the fifth largest market for Chinafs rice exports. The Chinese GM rice is of a long grain Indica variety, while Japanese consumers prefer short grain Japonica in their daily diet. Thus, the illegal GM rice is not likely to have been sold as ordinary rice in Japan, but may have entered the food chain as a processed food.

The government says the Chinese rice that enters Japan is from a different region than the place where illegal GM rice has been grown. Greenpeace is not satisfied with that response, since there is a possibility that the GM variety will be grown in regions near the area where the rice for Japan is grown.

Also Japan announced that it has not found such illegal GM rice in the imports flowing into Japan. However, since it does not have sufficient data to do an accurate genetic inspection, the government cannot be sure if that is true or not. With regards to this case, we submitted questions to Japans Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. The reply was that detailed information is not available from the Chinese government, so nothing further can be done by Japanfs government.

It seems clear from all these cases that the food safety monitoring system is not functioning in a satisfactory way.

(Amagasa Keisuke)

(Copyright FSCW August 2005)

Food Safety Citizens' Watch
c/o Consumers Union of Japan
Nikken Bldg.
75 Waseda-machi, Shinjuku-ku
Tokyo 162-0042, Japan
URL: http://www1.jca.org/foodsafety
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