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Japan's New Rules on GE Food Labeling Will Slow
Corn Imports from USA

New GMO rules may curb Japan's appetite for US corn
Updated 3:22 AM ET March 28, 2001

By Jae Hur

TOKYO, March 28 (Reuters) - Stricter legislation against genetically
modified organisms (GMOs) from April may force Japan to shun U.S. corn for
food use due to jitters over unapproved StarLink biotech corn, traders said
on Wednesday.

The new rules that will set a zero tolerance for imports containing
unapproved gene-altered products take effect in Japan from April 1. The new
rules will also require labelling for approved GMOs in food products.

Japan has drawn up guidelines on how to enforce the new rules, but trade
sources said they do not make clear whether the government will take a
tougher stance, fuelling concerns about StarLink corn.

The Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry sent late on Tuesday a 17-page
document to local quarantine offices and authorities, including details of
sampling and testing for StarLink corn.

"We asked the ministry for more details on the new guidelines such as the
frequency of its checks," said a trader with a leading trading house. "The
ministry is not expected to make them clear until the end of this week."

However, the guidelines would likely force some domestic corn importers for
food use to shift to other supply sources such as Argentina, Brazil and
China from the United States, he said.

Ministry officials were not immediately available for comments.

DISPOSE OR SHIP BACK

If StarLink turns up in imported corn cargoes, they must be disposed or
shipped back to the country of origin under the new rules, a ministry
official had previously said.

The health ministry, which handles corn imports for food use, has told the
domestic industry it would begin its checks for StarLink in food corn
imports at unloading ports and in food products on the domestic market with
the new rules from April 1.

StarLink was found last October in food products in Japan, where it is not
approved even for animal feed, prompting the single biggest U.S. corn buyer
to cut buying sharply and with importers scrambling to find other supply
sources.

StarLink, made by Franco-German life-science group Aventis, is not approved
for human consumption in the United States because of concerns about
potential allergic reactions.

Japan imports about four million tonnes of corn for food use each year and
another 12 million tonnes for animal feed.

Under the new rules, Japan will allow food products containing less than
five percent of approved biotech crops such as corn and soybeans to be
labelled as non-GMOs.

LABELLING

Animal feed and food products in which DNA or protein resulting from gene
alteration cannot be detected using existing technologies are exempted from
labelling.

Officials with foodmakers and retailers said there would be little change in
their business because they have already put labels on their products since
early last year.

"Since March last year, we have put labels on our food products," said a
spokesman with Japanese supermarket chain Jusco Co

Jusco has seen little change in their sales between GMO and non-GMO food
products after labelling last year, he said.

Some foodmakers and retailers have taken a tougher stance since last year.
They stopped using GMOs in their food products and removed GM food products
from their outlets.

"We adopted a policy last year not to put GM food products on our shelves,"
said a spokesman of Ito-Yokado Co Ltd, Japan's biggest retailing group with
180 outlets nationwide.

Asahi Breweries Ltd, Japan's second-largest brewer, has stopped using GM
corn starch in their products since early last year and not passed on the
cost to consumers, a company spokesman said.

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