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Japan has long faced a dilemma when it comes to GM foods, between addressing the concerns of consumers and local groups regarding potential food safety issues and impacts on local biodiversity; and introducing GM foods on a larger scale in order to address food security issues as the market with the lowest self-sufficiency rates amongst all developed markets globally.
The local Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) has been conducting studies on GM food crops including soybeans and rapeseed since 2006, and the latest report on 2022 findings has revealed that the cultivation of these crops continues to pose no risk to local crops and biodiversity.
“The 2022 survey continues to reflect previous survey results that GM soybeans and GM rapeseed are showing continued stability in their growing range,” MAFF said via a formal statement.
“This means that the crops are and not spreading the GM genes to any crossable relative species [such as soybeans or rapeseed crops with local origin] and are not showing any expansion of their growing zones, continuing to remain stably confined to their original points of origin.
“This data leads us to conclude that GM rapeseed and GM soybeans do not affect local biodiversity even if cultivated locally.”
According to the report, MAFF researchers observed a total of 77 such GM rapeseed colonies comprising 89 individual plants, as well as two colonies of three individual GM soybean plants across nine points of growth – none of which saw any expansion in growing range or significant crossing between GM plants and local plants.
Addressing previous concerns about such GM crop cultivation, the ministry also highlighted that these plants were not cultivated specifically for the purposes of study but instead were believed to originate from seeds spilled on certain main roads during previous transportation – further supporting the argument that no cross-contamination occurs even in such natural circumstances.
“We have been investigating the growth of the GM plants in these known ports of growth by first collecting and analysing the leaves to determine their GM status, and then also doing this for plants in the surrounding area to estimate crossability and any resulting cross-contamination,” said the ministry.
“MAFF will continue to review the survey methods based on these results in order to verify the absence or presence of GM crop impacts on biodiversity, and continue this survey to further enhance knowledge in this area [in response to] public concerns.”
That said, there is still a great deal of consumer apprehension with regard to the topic of GM products, resulting in the government having to be extremely cautious in terms of allowing any form of GM food into the local supply despite its food security concerns.
At present there is no ban on the import of food products made from GM ingredients, but no GM crops have yet been approved for cultivation locally and there are nine major agricultural products that are subject to mandatory GM labelling: soybeans, corn, potatoes, rapeseed, cottonseed, alfalfa, sugar beet, papaya and mustard greens.
Last year, the local Consumer Affairs Agency (CAA) also announced that all processed foods made using these nine items as raw materials were ‘subject to mandatory GM labelling if the GM DNA or protein produced by the DNA is still detectable after processing’.
“At this point, GM monitoring will be monitored for 33 major processed food product categories [including] tofu, soymilk, snacks, canned foods, starches, flours and more,” CAA said.
The 33 categories cover just about every type of food or beverage product that can be made from the nine crops.
At the same time, the increased regulation on GM foods as well as the continued positive findings from MAFF could bode well in the country, helping it to take a step towards stronger food self-sufficiency moving forward.
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