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2-Plants: GE crop continues to be found around ports all over Japan

-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  GE crop continues to be found around ports all over Japan
        Spilled seeds during unloading and transportation have sprouted
SOURCE: Mainichi Shimbun, Japan, by Taku Nishikawa
        unofficial brief English translation by Akiko Frid, Japan
DATE:   17 Jan 2005

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GE crop continues to be found around ports all over Japan - Spilled seeds
during unloading and transportation have sprouted

There have been several cases of imported GE crop seeds growing wild
around port areas in many parts of Japan. It is suspected that such seeds
were spilled during unloading and transportation and then sprouted. The
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) says they (GE
crops growing wild) do not effect the ecosystem, however, the reality of
GE crop imports, which started back in 1996, has now shown that it cannot
be controlled. The Ministry of Environment and local citizens groups
embarked on checking ports all over Japan.

Canola and soybean.....

In June last year (2004), the MAFF announced a report about imported GE
canola that are growing wild in Japan. According to the MAFF report, the
herbicide resistant genes were detected in 2 samples (6 seeds) among 7
samples (20 seeds) of rapeseeds that were collected within a 5 km radius
from the port in Kashima, Ibaraki Prefecture.

After the MAFF announcement, a local group in Nagoya confirmed that there
are GE canola growing wild near Yokkaichi port in Mie Prefecture. Since
then many citizens groups have checked around different ports, and
confirmed that there are wild GE canola plants in Chiba port, Nagoya
port, Shimizu port (Shizuoka Prefecture) and Hakata port (Fukuoka Prefecture).

Moreover, in Shimizu port, citizens groups found herbicide resistant GE
soybean plants and insect tolerant GE maize plants as well. The National
Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES) also conducted research on
this issue between July and August last year, and found GE canola by a
national road about 30 km away from the Kashima port.

There have not been any GE crops cultivated commercially on a large scale
in Japan. For importing GE crops, both the MAFF and the Ministry of
Environment have admitted that there are not any differences between NON-
GE (conventional) crops and GE in terms of their ability to propagate in
the environment. However, both Ministries agree and refuse to alter their
position that "even if spilled GE seeds grow wild and cross with local
varieties, such plants will have low fertility, and therefore there is no
possibility that spilled GE seeds will spread and interfere with the
native species".

A nationwide investigations by citizens

On the other hand, Keisuke Amagasa from the citizens group NO! GMO
Campaign stated that "the experimental station that was used for the
Ministries' research was relatively small compared to the environment at
large. Therefore there is no concrete data on the real environmental
effect of GE crops".

The group will start nationwide investigations between March and May this
year at the time of the flowering season for rapeseed flowers in Japan.
There are 10 ports where canola seeds are imported into Japan. Citizens
will be checking for herbicide tolerant canola around those ports as well
as around oil manufacturing plants and transportation routes.

The Ministry of Environment has also been investigating this since 2003
in the area around ports and the river area in Kanto-district. The
Ministry checked 77 different locations, but they did not find any GE in
Ibaraki Prefecture and Saitama Prefecture.

The Ministry said that the reason why they did not find GE canola in
Kashima port was due to the season and checking locations. The Ministry
will continue to investigate this matter every 2-3 years, around 10
different ports in order to monitor the spread of GE canola.

Hybrid not been found

The Japanese government so far has approved 52 GE varieties of 8
different crops and plants for either import or research purposes. These
are GE maize, GE cotton, GE rice, GE turf, GE carnation, GE soybean, GE
rapeseed and GE papaya(*). Among those, GE rapeseed is considered as the
easiest to cross breed to allied species which exist in abundance in Japan.

According to the findings of a study conducted in 2002, as part of a
biodiversity research project, by Nobuyoshi Nakajima of the National
Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES), GE soybeans can cross breed
with wild soybeans.

How about in nature at large?

Nakajima conducted an investigation last year to see if GE canola has
cross bred with wild mustard. He checked 3600 seeds from wild mustard
that were grown about 3m from wild GE canola growing near Kashima port,
but no herbicide resistant GE genes were detected among the seeds. He
also checked rapeseed flowers in 49 different locations in Kanto-
district, where rapeseed flowers are cultivated for tourist attraction,
but detected no herbicide resistant characteristics among those samples.

Nakajima pointed out that if GE canola is controlled by cutting the
flower before it blooms, you wouldn't expect GE canola cross to wild
relatives. However, although the probability is low, it is not zero.
There is a compelling reasons for depending on imported canola and
soybeans in Japan, it is necessary to conduct proper research in order to
understand how GE crops are behaving in Japan's ecosystem.

Own regulation in local municipality

There have been some local governments, which regulate GE crop
cultivation. Consumers' anxieties over GE crops are well-established, so
some local governments took some measures in order to prevent harmful rumours.

For example, Hokkaido is going to present its proposal for a Bylaw to
regulate GE crop cultivation at the prefectural assembly in February. The
proposal includes assessment of cultivation plans by an expert committee
as well as the governor, who will be able to order changes to the plans
if necessary. Imprisonment and other penalties for unpermitted
cultivation are also included.

Shiga Prefecture formulated a guideline for cultivating GE crops, in
order to encourage producers to refrain voluntarily from commercial
cultivation. Ibaraki Prefecture also wrote up a guidance for producers
that they must inform the local government before cultivating GE crops as
well as obtaining consent from neighbouring farms.

The Food Safety Commission conducted an opinion poll in May 2004,
involving 468 people (effective ratio of respondents 97.4%) on the food
safety issue. According to the result, 74.7% of respondents feel more or
less uneasy about GM foods. The reasons were 47.2% were suspicious about
science-based data, 14.4% felt there was not enough information to be
sure of safety and 12.3% felt there was not enough regulation and proper

(ENDS) -------

(*) These 8 GE crops are approved for different purposes. Some are only
approved for import, but are not approved for either food or feed, so
therefore there is no real market, no actual import of these crops. They
are GE rice and GE papaya. And some of GE rice varieties and GE turf are
approved for field trial purposes only.


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