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3-Food: Japanese government plan to label GM products under fire

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TITLE:  Japanese government plan to label GM products under fire
SOURCE: Daily Yomiuri, Japan
DATE:   July 15, 1999

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Japanese government plan to label GM products under fire

There are many hurdles to the implementation of a plan recently
drafted by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry that
would require manufacturers of foods produced using genetically
modified (GM) ingredients to ensure that the products are labeled
as such. The plan may pose a dilemma for all parties concerned.

Grave concern was expressed during a meeting of food producers on
June 25 to discuss ways to deal with the plan. "We will have to
switch back to non-genetically manipulated farm products as
ingredients for our products if we come under legal obligation
(to label the products as stipulated in the plan). Otherwise, we
will not be able to survive in this industry," an official from
an association of soybean processors said. He had every reason to
be apprehensive about the plan. For years, processed food
manufacturers have marketed soybean products as "health foods."
There is no doubt that a label that reads "Genetically Modified"
would seriously tarnish the image of processed foods using
soybeans - as many consumers remain concerned about the safety of
foods produced using GM ingredients.

Meanwhile, it is difficult for food manufacturers to source
natural ingredients. For example, 97 percent of the 5.2 million
tons of soybeans are imported each year. Of the total, only 4
percent are natural or organically grown for special food
products. Natural soybeans must be imported through a special
distribution channel, at greater cost. The fact remains that
soybeans - genetically manipulated or otherwise - are being
distributed without differentiation. Consequently, most soybeans
marketed through the current distribution system would be
classified as "not sorted" under the latest plan from the
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry.

Whether genetically manipulated soybeans are used depends on the
type of soybean product. For example, products such as natto
(fermented soybeans), nimame (boiled soybeans) and miso
(fermented soybean paste) are made from natural soybeans.
Meanwhile, "not sorted" soybeans are used to produce about 60
percent of tofu, roughly 80 percent of soy sauce and nearly 100
percent of cooking oil on the market. Another task faced by the
ministry is how it should verify and monitor labels attached to
soybean products. Consumer confidence in the system will be low
if false labeling that escapes government scrutiny is widespread.

There are some scientific ways to determine whether a product
contains genetically altered ingredients. They include discerning
recombined DNA chains and the protein from the recombination of
the DNA. However, DNA chains and protein can be destroyed by
fermentation and heat. In addition, many foods defy detection.
DNA and protein in soybeans, corn and other agricultural
products, as well as tofu, boiled beans, popcorn and other
processed foods, are easily detected. However, the DNA and
protein in natto, miso and dry confectionery are more difficult
to detect, depending on the degree to which they have been
processed. The use of genetically recombined ingredients cannot
be detected in products such as soy sauce, cooking oil, starch
syrup and processed tomatoes.

In light of this problem, the ministry has removed processed
foods that defy detection from its list of foods subject to the
labeling obligation. This is expected to antagonize consumer
organizations that insist that GM foods be monitored in the
distribution system. The plan could push up production costs if a
system to distinguish genetically manipulated farm products from
natural products were introduced. It could also raise prices if
the two products were distributed separately, as it would call
for separate transportation and storage facilities for natural
crops. That would push up the price of soybeans by about 20 to 40

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-| Co-ordinator
-| The European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
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-| Germany
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