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3-Food: Japan firms smell opportunity in non-GMO foods

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TITLE:  Japan firms smell opportunity in non-GMO foods
SOURCE: Reuters World Report, by Aya Takada
DATE:   July 15, 199

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Japan firms smell opportunity in non-GMO foods

TOKYO, July 15 (Reuters) - As plans brew in Japan for labelling
foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMO), companies
see potential in marketing food without GMOs sought by consumers
concerned about safety, industry officials say. A government
committee is scheduled to decide on GMO labelling regulations for
food products by the end of August. Japan is one the world's
largest importers of GMOs due to its heavy dependence on
agricultural imports from the United States, the largest producer
of genetically altered crops.

Committee members have said labels would likely be required for
foods in which DNA or protein resulting from genetic modification
is detectable.. This, they said, is expected to spark interest in
imports that do not include GMOs among processors, including
producers of traditional "tofu" soybean curd. Possible labelling
exemptions might include foods produced from GMOs that do not
contain DNA or protein from genetic modification, such as
vegetable oils and corn syrup.

Japan has approved 22 varieties of genetically engineered crops
under its safety guidelines, including soybeans, corn, rapeseed,
potatoes, cotton and tomatoes. Its annual imports of soybeans for
food are estimated at 800,000 to one million tonnes, while
imports of soybeans for edible oils total about 3.7 million to
3.8 million tonnes. Marubeni Corp has said it plans to supply
non-GMO soybeans to Japanese food processors through a strict
segregation system. Cooperating with U.S. agribusiness company
Archer Daniels Midland, the Japanese trading house plans to
supply 31,000 tonnes of non-GMO U.S. soybeans to Japanese
customers during the year beginning with the next harvest around

Marubeni said it could raise that amount if demand is strong. "We
have launched this business to meet consumer needs," a Marubeni
official said. "We are the first to adopt a non-GMO segregation
system for soybean imports to Japan. But other trading houses
will likely follow suit if the government imposes GMO labelling
guidelines." Marubeni has U.S. contracts to grow four varieties
of non-GMO soybeans suitable for production of tofu and "miso"
bean paste. Segregation procedures cover field inspection,
collection, storage, loading and arrival in Japan. Marubeni uses
enzyme linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) for genetic testing to
ensure its non-GMO soybeans are 98 to 99 percent free of
genetically altered materials.

The company annually handles 100,000 tonnes of soybeans for food
and 400,000 tonnes for crushing, although it plans to apply its
non-GMO management only to imports of food soybeans. Spirits
maker Takara Shuzo Co and trading house Mitsubishi Corp are
considering a joint venture for testing and certification of non
GMO food.. Takara started gene identification testing on soybeans
and soybean products in April 1998 and expanded it to corn last
October. The two companies plan to test non-GMO soybeans at
Takara's laboratories in the United States and Japan using the
polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method and to issue GMO-free

Takara is the only Japanese company licensed by Swiss drug
company Roche Holdings AG to conduct PCR analysis. A Takara
spokesman said details of the joint venture plans were not set
yet, but the business held promise as consumers want to make an
informed choice about what they eat. "Demand for gene testing
will likely grow further after the government decides on GMO
labelling rules," the spokesman said. Itochu Feed Mills Co, a
unit of trading house Itochu Corp, is expanding use of non
genetically altered corn in its compound feed output, responding
to users who want to avoid genetically altered pest-resistant
corn. The feed maker plans to increase its use of conventional
corn with higher oil content grown by contracted U.S. farmers to
180,000-200,000 tonnes in the business year to next March 31,
compared with 150,000 tonnes in the previous year. 

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