|Issue # 2, Illegal GM food imports September
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 Chinafs
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 Japanfs
It seems clear from all these cases that
the food safety monitoring system is not
functioning in a satisfactory way.
|(Copyright FSCW August 2005)
Food Safety Citizens' Watch
c/o Consumers Union of Japan
75 Waseda-machi, Shinjuku-ku
Tokyo 162-0042, Japan
|Food Safety Citizens' Watch Newsletter