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6-Genetech §§: Japan tightens rules on GM crops

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TITLE:  Japan tightens rules on GM crops to protect the
SOURCE: Nature 399, 719 (1999), sent by AGNET, Canada
DATE:   June 24, 1999

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ASAKO SAEGUSA TOKYO --  Japan is, according to this story, to
tighten its safety regulations on genetically modified crops
following the publication last month of research suggesting that
pollen from Bt corn could harm the larvae of monarch butterflies
(see Nature 399, 214; 1999). The Japanese Ministry of
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) was cited as
announcing last week that it will suspend approval of Bt crops
for agricultural purposes until its committee on genetically
modified organisms (GMOs) has established criteria for evaluating
the safety of such crops.

Japan has already approved the importation of six types of Bt
corn for use as foodstuffs, but the commercial planting of seed
produced by US companies, such as Monsanto, has not yet been
approved. Yutaka Tabei of the ministry's safety evaluation
division was cited as saying the harmful effect of Bt toxins on
non-target insects was not entirely unexpected, adding, "The
results were not surprising, given that the butterfly larvae were
fe leaves dusted with pollen from Bt corn. But we must carry out
further studies--including those on the spread of pollen--to
assess any potential impact such crops may have in the natural
environment." There is a strong emphasis on the concept of
"substantial equivalence", under which GM foods are compared with
analogous conventional foods in terms of characteristics such as
toxicity and nutritional qualities. 

At present, the GMO committee predicts the potential ecological
impact of Bt crops to be "negligible" in the natural environment.
But it is emphasizing the importance of carrying out safety tests
by simulating various environmental conditions. The committee
plans to release revised safety evaluation protocols by the end
of this year, basing its final decision on safety studies carried
out by Japanese institutions.

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