Nature, December 23, 1999, volume 402, page 846
Keeping it 'natural': The Japanese public are growing hostile towards GM
[TOKYO] Japan's Ministry of Health and Welfare (MHW) announced last week
that tests on the potential health risks of genetically modified (GM) foods
will be mandatory from April 2001. Such tests are currently carried out on a
The ministry also announced that foods considered 'safe' would be labelled.
But how this should be done is still under discussion, and the MHW says it
is uncertain whether the labels would actually indicate safety, or whether
they would take a similar approach to that announced earlier this year by
the country's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF).
MAFF's draft regulations, released in August (see Nature 400, 605; 1999),
require 30 food products containing GM ingredients to be labelled as such.
Products with a mixture of GM and non-GM ingredients must be labelled as
Although the MHW hopes to include food safety in its labelling, many think
that the two ministries should first unite their currently separate
The health ministry also intends to require more detailed tests on the
possible toxicity and allergenicity of GM organisms. The current guidelines
give only a general outline of the safety tests. In contrast, the proposed
evaluation system gives specific details of the assessment procedures.
Mandatory testing of GM products means that the evaluation of new GM foods
would be halted until April 2001. This is expected to affect the
commercialization of several products that have passed safety evaluation,
including DuPont's soybeans enriched with oleic acid. But it may speed up
the approval of GM products and improve their image with the public.
Most Japanese food manufacturers have abandoned GM ingredients. Major
breweries, such as Kirin Beer, Suntory and Asahi Beer, have decided to make
their beer GM-free. Ajinomoto, Japan's largest food-additive manufacturer,
last week said it was to stop using GM soybeans in its products.
Kirin Beer has also abandoned its research into GM tomatoes, although the
company says that it has spent very little money on the project, which uses
technology developed by Calgene, the US agribiotechnology company.
Kirin no longer plans to do research on GM food, although it will continue
research into other crops. Kagome, which makes processed food, says it has
no plans to commercialize its products, but will continue its research. But
Japan Tobacco hopes to bring to market its GM rice, which was approved in