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AGROFUELS: Japanese team set up to promote GM crops for biofuel

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  Team to promote GM crops for biofuel
SOURCE: The Asahi Shimbun, Japan
DATE:   23.05.2007

Team to promote GM crops for biofuel

The agriculture ministry set up a study team Tuesday to spur
commercialization of genetically modified crops for biofuel instead of
food, which has been largely shunned by the public because of safety concerns.

By promoting the commercialization of GM crops for fuel, the ministry
hopes to eventually gain the public's trust in using GM crops for human

Full-fledged commercial cultivation of GM crops started in other
countries, such as the Untied States, about 10 years ago. Currently,
more than 100 million hectares around the world are used to grow GM
crops, more than 20 times the area of all farm plots in Japan.

Japanese universities and research institutes started growing GM crops
outdoors on an experimental basis from the late 1990s. Most of these
projects are still in the research and development stage.

Currently, 11 GM crops in Japan are approved under a national law based
on the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The crops, including rice
plants, soybeans and corn, are mainly intended for human food and animal feed.

But none of the crops grown for human consumption has been commercialized.

Commercial farming has not yet been established in Japan for even
inedible GM plants. For example, purple-blue carnations developed
through gene modification, which were at one time commercially grown in
Japan, are now raised overseas.

Because of strong safety concerns among the nation's consumers, the
government has found it difficult to approve GM crops for practical use.

GM rice, which has been found to relieve hay fever symptoms, is handled
as a medical product and must go through strict animal experiments
before it can be commercialized.

To get around all of these hurdles, the Ministry of Agriculture,
Forestry and Fisheries considered commercialization of GM fields for
purposes other than human consumption.

The study team, comprising specialists and executives of consumer and
producer groups, will draw up a medium-term strategy and a scheduled
program for research, development and commercialization of GM crops.

It is expected to propose concrete plans to commercialize inedible GM
crops in five to 10 years.

Crops under the plan include GM rice plants, which can yield more grain
than regular rice plants for use as biofuel.

Other GM plants that can suck up underground toxic substances, such as
heavy metals, will also be considered.

The ministry plans to hold public hearings on the safety and dangers of
GM crops from autumn.

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