Attitudes to biotechnology in Japan in 2003

 

- Masakazu Inaba and Darryl Macer

Institute of Biological Sciences, University of Tsukuba,

Tsukuba Science City, 305-8572, JAPAN

Email: asianbioethics@yahoo.co.nz

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 13 (2003), 78-90.

 

I. Introduction

Japan has a population of 125 million persons enjoying a relatively high standard of living internationally, being the eighth most populated nation globally.  Accordingly on the FAO index of food intake Japan rates as a developed country. In 1995 there was 4.282 million ha of land under crops, so the ratio of agricultural land per person is only 0.3 ha per person, because the country is 80% mountainous. Of these crops 2 million ha is under rice.  In order to feed these people most food is imported. 

Although some surveys of Japanese biotechnology have pointed out the relatively low importance of agricultural biotechnology when compared to agricultural exporting countries like Australasia or the United States, the increased capacity for food production from a limited area of land is of great potential benefit to Japan, where there is little agricultural land available. The government and industry has been promoting biotechnology since the 1980s.

The 2002 budget related to biotechnology in Japan included 27 billion Yen from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), 128 billion yen from the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW), 23 billion yen from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), 71 billion  yen from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MECST), and 4 billion yen from the Ministry of Environment (Japan Bioindustry Association Figures, 2002).

Given the large amount spent upon biotechnology in Japan, we can ask why almost nothing is spent discussing the ethical, social and legal (ELSI) issues raised by the application of biotechnology in society.  Until now, there has been little spent on these issues when compared to other countries.  For example in Canada 12% of the budget for the human genome project was spent on ELSI issues, and in USA 5%, but Japan has never got above 1% despite this point having been discussed internationally  (Macer, 1992b).

This paper attempts to examine the attitudes towards some of the ethical issues of biotechnology in Japan, especially focusing on descriptive bioethics, that is, how do people think about biotechnology. It presents results of public opinion surveys conducted in 2003 with comparisons over the past 13 years.

 

2. Types of Issues

2.1. Food safety

One of the fundamental ethical principles is that of non-maleficence.  This principle is behind the commonly accepted principle of safety assessment. The need for long term risk assessment studies has been emphasized by NGOs opposed to GM products. There are sections on GM food safety inside MAFF and MHLW. The MHLW introduced mandatory requirements for safety assessment of foods and food additives produced by recombinant DNA techniques adding new provisions to the "Specifications and Standards for Foods, Food Additives and Other Related Products". The MHLW Announcements were published in May, 2000 and other related texts are available on-line.

In the early 1990s there were claims by Japanese Ministry of Health officials that Japanese persons had an on average 1m longer intestinal tract compared to Westerners, which meant that all recombinant DNA products and foods would need separate safety data for Japan.  This was dropped after U.S. pressure.  However, as will be discussed below, health concerns over genetically modified (GM) food among the public have increased since then.

Concerns over allergenicity are seen in the food safety assessment guidelines. A strong organic farming movement for so-called "natural foods" exists in Japan, and public concern about pesticides has increased as described below. The availability of organic foods sold at a premium price has increased, utilizing the high consumer spending power and fears about the safety. 

The Japanese government also often releases data or specific cases, which make people believe that imported food has more pesticides.  The prices of domestically grown food are often twice those of imported food, playing upon people's fear of pesticide residues.  In fact the ethical principle of do no harm or non-maleficence, needs to be understood by the fear mongers, those who generate excess fear in members of society, often to direct them to alternative commercial products of biotechnology.

Systems of traceability for food are not yet established, but are under investigation. This was in particularly important after the outbreak of BSE in Japan, so that for cows a system is being implemented.   The BSE crisis was an impetus to the introduction of these systems into Japanese agriculture, but there is a long way to go.  The public trust in these systems is not high, as a number of companies have been caught falsely labeling the origin of foods.

 

2.2  Consumer right to know, and right to choose 

The right to know was the major thrust of the consumer's movement regarding GM food, and their petition led to a reversal of the government's position on labeling of GM food, from rejection of labeling in 1997 to mandatory labeling from April 2001. The MAFF decided in August 2000 to introduce this mandatory labeling system of foods and food additives produced by recombinant DNA techniques in view of consumers' choice under the amended Law Concerning Standardization and Proper Labeling of Agriculture and Forestry Products (JAS Law). In addition, the MHLW requested the Food Safety Investigation Council discuss the necessity for labeling of foods and food additives produced by recombinant DNA techniques in view of public health.

Consumer confidence in food labeling has been shaken by a number of food labeling scams, continuing through 2002. On 29 August, 2002, the MAFF announced the results of a survey that found that 25 out of 80 randomly selected tofu and "natto" soybean products sold under organic labels were found to contain GM soybeans. Under these labels they should not have any GM food components.

Under agricultural standards regulations, products containing GMOs, even in trace amounts, cannot bear organic labels. The MAFF said that it would inspect the factories at which the products in question were produced. According to the officials, the tests identified genetically modified soybeans in 20 tofu products and five natto fermented soybean products. These products were manufactured by 25 companies in 15 prefectures. They point to a fundamental difficulty in a country which relies upon imported soybean from the USA, where over 80% of soybean is GM.

 

2.3. Ecological concerns

There have been field trials of GM crops through the 1990s in Japan, and no adverse environmental  impact has been detected. There are trials now at the farm level in size, but Japan has not been one of the countries to commercialize GMOs yet  (James 2002).

Because of the high prices of foods in Japan, organic food manufacturers can also receive high returns on their crops. There is positive public image of organic products in Japan, based on the idea that the products are pure and/or "natural". 

Fears of the development of resistant weeds and pests have also been expressed in debates on GMOs, but the most commonly cited examples are the introduction of new species, such as caterpillars, which have been tree pests. There have not been concerns expressed especially for farming, because farming is not a major export industry. Being an island, there has been some isolation from disease until recent introductions. These concerns, for example, caterpillars that attack cherry trees, a national symbol, have been more important that fears to the farm environment.

 

2.4. Environmental benefits

These benefits may include less use of fertilizers and less use of chemicals, given the widespread residues. Japanese are sensitive to environmental contaminants, since the environmental diseases like Minamata disease. The issue is becoming important, although most Japanese consumers are taught that foreign imported food has more pesticides, when in fact generally not. Previous opinion surveys of Macer (1992a, 1994), and the survey described here, suggest that there is little change in public opinion on the potential reduction in use of pesticides by GMOs in Japan from 1991 to 2003, revealing the lack of publicity in Japan about this issue.

 

2.5. Economic concerns

Utilitarian theories of ethics reveal the importance of economic calculations to the principle of justice, where the interests of all members in a society are included in reaching social consensus. Japan imports almost all its food, except for rice.  These food imports come from a variety of countries. The principle country from which food is imported is the USA, which does not label food containing GMOs for its domestic production.  Japan has asked a number of producers in many different countries to send non-GM food, and to label products containing GMOs. If Europe had not insisted on labeling GM seed and foods Japan would not have done so, however, because of European led global resistance to GMOs Japan has joined the EU.

Economically affluent consumers mean that many in Japan can afford higher premiums on food that required identity preservation and is labeled. The decisions however are largely made by industry in food importers and manufacturers, rather than from public involvement.

 The same arguments that are used globally to argue that GM technology may help produce more food and lower cost are also relevant to Japanese farmers and consumers. Over the past few years the average price of food has fallen, but still the average family spends more of their income on food in Japan than in other OECD countries. The argument of lower costs is being used in the case of Japanese beef made through animal cloning studies. Japanese marbled beef sells at prices of US$100/kg, a price an order of magnitude higher than imported Australian or American beef.

The "feeding the poor" argument is used to promote biotechnology in general, but the poor are usually considered to be outside of Japan, e.g. Africa or Asia. However, given that the average family spends so much of their income on food, lower costs would free up money for other uses and even the relatively wealthy middle class Japan would value this.

 

2.6. Cultural and social values

Agriculture is more than mere economics, there are also important cultural values and identity in farming, fisheries and forestry. A feature of the Japanese environment is the minute size of rice paddy fields and agricultural land. This is evidence of the relatively small size of farms compared to the major food exporters.  Almost 5 million people are associated with the farming land, at a ratio of less than one person in a farming family per hectare cultivated. In practice many small farms may be linked together in cooperatives, both formal and informal, as it may not be economic to actually produce rice from the small land area.  Market vegetables in veneer houses offer higher income than rice.

The government taxation policy however favors the maintenance of small farms for production, and farmers may operate self-employed businesses simultaneously as the farm, maintaining the farm because of the tax incentives from the government.  For some families it is financially better to have young persons officially working on the farm rather than in another occupation, just for the tax savings the family will receive.

The impacts of GMO technologies on economics and organization of food production (including seeds, farming, rural landscape transportation and distribution, and marketing) and economic interests of various constituencies (including consumers) have not been well considered, because given the large taxation and subsidies present, any financial benefit will be hard to perceive.  This means that individually there may not be a clear across-the-board reason for shifting to GM crops as a farming community. The uncertainties in public opinion and consumer resistance also make it difficult to predict at what stage it would actually be an economic benefit for a farmer in Japan to switch to GM crops.

In addition to the desire by many citizens to maintain the traditional image of Japanese countryside agriculture, there may also be social practices related to what can be called "seasonality" (i.e. apple season, cherry season, chestnut season).  This concept might be related to the importance placed in Japanese culture on the transient, like the "sakura" (cherry blossom).  For many the importance of sakura is that it lasts only one week and in its peak for a few days.  A longer lasting flower would not be so appreciated, many Japanese persons say.  Thus when faced with the concepts of imported food throughout the year, a feature seen in many countries that import food like the EU, some would claim that people do not value a fruit or flower that appears throughout the year.

On the other hand, the majority of Japanese living in the cities view the system as consumers of a global market, and chose their food not based on season.  In this respect there is more emphasis on so-called "natural" foods (as discussed above) rather than indigenous seasonal foods, because most food markets are cosmopolitan being based on imported food. While there is interest in "natural" foods, there is not strong support for any traditional farming system.  The preservation of  "natural" landscape with rice farms has more support, but Japanese consumers have little aversion to globalization because almost all food is imported. While Japanese rice is considered much tastier than Chinese or Thai rice, Californian grown Japanese rice is already well known to be equivalent to Japanese rice.

Economic factors are important, and the success of developing a beer substitute without hops that could be sold substantially cheaper by avoiding the tax on hops for beer, lead to a successful introduction of beer substitute drinks.  These "brews" have been so successful that after all the major beer makers having introduced them, the government is raising the taxes on them so as not to miss out on so much tax revenue from the decline in beer sales. 

 

3. Methodology of research

3.1. Choice of topics

Biotechnology is the use of living organisms or parts of them to provide goods or services. Modern biotechnology includes technologies which can modify characteristics of organisms without using the method of direct genetic manipulation, or technologies which enhance beneficial attributions of food products or organisms themselves, for example, chemical treatment, screening, cell fusion, or food irradiation for longer food preservation.

A range of topics related to commercial biotechnology were chosen to be included, which allows comparisons between examples and with earlier research. For the mail response survey questions aimed at seeing how people differentiate between applications of biotechnology. Attitudes of respondents towards these applications may reveal their understanding and feeling towards genetic engineering.

Genetically modified (GM) crops have started to be utilized and commercialized since 1995. In 2002 there were 58 million hectares in GM plants across fifteen countries. The proportions of harvest of GM crops in the world in 2001 was the United States 68%, Argentina 22%, Canada 6%, and China 3% (James, 2002). European countries and Japan are not so much in favor of cultivating or importing GM crops. The variety of GM crops which are commercialized for human consumption or animal feeds include soybean (63% of the total global area of transgenic crops in 2001), maize (19%), cotton (13%), canola (5%), and others are such as potato, squash or papaya.  Plant-plant combinations used in the questionnaire were for agricultural applications, and those products were for human consumption. Among plant-plant combinations, how people differentiate modern biotechnology and genetic modification was investigated.

Microorganism-human combination concerns medicines produced in bacteria, with insulin as an example. Microorganisms are broadly recognized organisms in research and production of organic substances as well as in daily life although how many people do not have a concrete image. Medicines produced by genetically modified (GM) microorganisms are the only application already widespread in Japan. Insulin was approved in 1982, and is a classic example of genetic engineering between human and microbes. The MHLW estimates that around 10% people in the Japanese population may develop diabetes. Since some scandals such as HIV contaminated blood have occurred in Japan, general safety concerns about medicines have increased. The results of this application illustrate how people have hopes as well as doubts about production of medicines, as well as towards genetic engineering.

Animal-human combinations include transgenic mice for cancer research and transgenic pigs for xenotransplantation. Animals are often used as models of human research. Transgenic mice are made for medical research that aims to cure causes of human death in the world. Transgenic pigs made for heart xenotransplantation are supposed to be an alternative solution to the current lack of organs for transplantation. Xenotransplantation of pig hearts into humans was used as another example of genetic engineering between mammals. Organs from human cadavers are not broadly used over Japan (Macer 1992; Macer et al. 2002). Also organs from brain dead patients are not widely used.

Genetic diagnosis of fetuses is a controversial topic in Japanese bioethics, although commonly practiced. Preimplantation diagnosis was used since 1990 in the UK (Macer, 1990). It is being widely used in some countries. In 2002, the American Society of Fertility Ethics Committee decided to allow its use for sex preselection, and the UK Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority allowed its use for implanting an embryo who would be a suitable immuno-compatible donor for tissue transplants.

Gene therapy has been a symbolic issue for human genetic engineering and was included to allow comparisons to agricultural biotechnology.  Human cloning was also included since it is of great media concern and should be a topic familiar to people through the media.

 

3.2. Mail response surveys in 2003

Sampling in 2003 was done across all prefectures of Japan by using random sampling method with the cooperation of other persons including Eiko Suda, Yoshihiro Okada, Masayuki Takahashi, Mariko Onodera, Fumika Hiwa, Fumi Maekawa and Makina Kato. The 2003 survey followed a similar system to earlier surveys with one important difference.  In the 1991, 1993, 2000 mail response surveys the anonymous letters had been dropped into mail boxes without any contact with the householders, to ensure they had few fears of invasion of privacy. However the response rate had dropped from 1991 (26%), 1993 mail response surveys (23%), the 1997 telephone survey (44%), to 12% in 2000 by mail response. Therefore in the 2003 survey, the distributors personally asked randomly selected householders across Japan to complete the questionnaire, leaving it behind with the householders to complete and return.  The response rate is thus higher than the 2000 survey at around 20% and like the 1997 survey, responses were obtained from all 47 prefectures. The sample characteristics are given in Table 1 to allow comparisons with the previous samples. There is a mix of different sectors of the Japanese public, education, different occupations (not shown), and rural and urban populations. We estimate sample error at +/- 5%.

Comparisons to earlier surveys allow long term comparisons, though the key questions for examination varied in the wording.  The general public is defined as those people who compromise ordinary society, over 90% of them do not have any involvement with research. The reasons that the respondents gave for their attitudes in the open spaces on the surveys for the open questions were categorized on the basis of the keywords and concepts that were expressed into a total of 30-40 types differing between questions, following the methods of Macer (1992a, 1994a). Each comment was categorized into up to three concept categories to describe the ideas in the answer.

 

4. A positive image of science in Japan

4.1. High public awareness of biotechnology

Through public opinion studies since the 1980s we can see some specific uses of GMOs that may be supported, as well as a general drop in support for GMOs in 1997, that is seen across the EU. These look at the trends over time in the reasoning that people have. The public in Japan is well educated, and is aware of biotechnology, perceiving both benefits and risks of most applications, and has a reasonable degree of bioethical maturity (Macer, 1992a). 

The general attitude towards science is that it will provide more good than harm, as shown in Table 2.  In response the question, "Q3. Overall do you think science and technology do more harm than good, more good than harm, or about the same of each?", only 5% in Japan think it will do more harm than good, a proportion that has remained stable from 1993 to 2003.

 

Table 2: General pessimism about science remains low

%

1990

1991

1993

2003

More harm

7

6

5

6

More good

53

55

42

43

Same

31

39

45

45

Don't know

10

-

8

7

*1990 (PMO survey data); 1991, 1993 and 2003 public surveys.

 

 


                  Table 1: Sample characteristics of surveys

%

P1991

P1993

P1997

P2000

P2003

S1991

S2000

N

551

352

405

297

376

555

370

Response

26

23

44

12

20

56

23

Time

7/91+

3/93+

1/97+

11/99+

12/02+

10/91+

11/99+

Male

53

52

52.4

62.2

52

90.2

89.2

Female

47

48

47.6

37.8

48

9.8

10.8

Rural

-

27

30.3

27.5

25

-

83.5

Urban

-

73

69.7

72.5

75

-

16.5

Age

Mean(yr)

39.8

41.7

41.0

44.5

46.9

47.1

50

<20

4

3

6.2

4.9

1

0.0

0

<30

24

21

23.7

15.1

16

9.3

1.7

<40

23

26

17.5

21.8

18

18.3

13.9

<50

25

19

23.7

19.4

20

31.5

31.5

<60

12

14

14.3

20.4

21

30.5

38.6

>60

12

17

11.4

18.3

23

10.4

14.2

Marital Status

Single

29

29

31

25.5

21

12.4

6.1

Married

66

66

66.4

71.4

71

86.1

92.5

Children

None

35

40

39.9

34.8

30

17.7

15.1

Education

High school

37.0

37.0

40.4

27.3

-

3.4

.3

2-year college

22.0

19.0

22

14.5

-

5.8

1.1

Graduate

31.0

31.0

32.9

40.1

-

38.0

15.6

Postgraduate

7.0

10.0

3.4

15.6

-

49.4

80

Religion

None

-

39.0

48.2

55.1

33

-

49.6

Buddhism

-

47.0

40.6

34.1

55

-

39.3

Christian

-

8.0

6.7

2.8

5

-

4.6

How important is religion?

Very

-

10.0

-

6.9

-

-

6.2

Some

-

33.0

-

25.3

-

-

24.3

Not too

-

40.0

-

39.1

-

-

45.2

Not at all

-

17.0

-

28.7

-

-

24.3

 

Note: P1991 = Public Sample from the 1991 Scientist/Public Survey in Japan (Macer 1992); P1993 = Japanese Public Sample from the 1993 International Bioethics Survey (Kato & Macer in Macer, 1994); P1997 = Public Sample from the 1997 Attitudes to Biotechnology in Japan Survey (Macer et al. 1997); P2000 = Public Sample from the 2000 Biotechnology and Bioethics Survey in Japan (Ng et al. 2000); P2003 = Public sample from current research; S1991 = Scientist Sample from the 1991 Scientist/Public Survey in Japan (Macer 1992); S2000 = Scientist Sample from the 2000 Biotechnology and Bioethics Survey in Japan (Ng et al. 2000). N = number of total respondents; Response % = response rate of the Survey; Time = Time period of the Survey.

 

 Table 3: Understanding of different technologies (self-evaluation)

Q5.          Can you tell me how much you have heard or read about each of these subjects?

N= Not heard of                      H= Heard of                              E= Could explain it to a friend

%

N91

H91

E91

N93

H93

E93

N2003

H2003

E2003

Pesticides

4

58

38

3

61

36

5

48

47

IVF

5

45

50

4

53

43

3

41

56

Surrogacy

-

-

-

-

-

-

5

38

57

Biotech

3

65

32

6

65

29

7

68

25

Gene therapy

-

-

-

23

59

19

14

61

25

Gen. Eng.

6

68

26

9

74

17

10

70

20

Computers

-

-

-

4

61

35

7

47

47

Cloning

-

-

-

-

-

-

21

51

28

ES cells

-

-

-

-

-

-

55

30

15

Bioethics

-

-

-

-

-

-

19

65

16

P1991, 1993 and 2003 surveys from Macer.

 


Table 4: General attitudes related to biotechnology                                                          [Top row is 2001, second row is 1993]

Q4. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

++Agree Strongly                  +Agree   =Neither                  -Disagree                --Disagree Strongly

%

++

+

=

-

--

a.  Science makes an important contribution to the quality of life.

29.7

57.1

12.6

0.6

0

1993

34

56

14

2

0.3

1991

26

55

14

2

3

b. Most problems can be solved by applying more and better

 technology.

8.2

33.2

49.4

7.9

1.3

1993

12

34

33

17

4

c.  Genetically modified plants and animals will help agriculture become less dependent on chemical pesticides.

4.8

28.7

45.5

16.9

4.1

1993

11

31

45

10

3

1991

9

39

45

6

1

d. A woman can abort a 4 month old fetus.

1.6

20.3

39.9

28.8

9.5

1993

6

23

33

29

9

e. A woman can abort a 4 month old fetus that has congenital abnormalities.

9.5

37.5

36.5

13.3

3.2

1993

6

45

28

10

2

f. A married couple can use a surrogate mother and in vitro fertilisation if they cannot get pregnant themselves.

8.8

36.8

29.9

18.6

6.0

1993

6

21

35

23

15

g. Animals have rights that people should not violate.

27.2

48.2

20.8

2.9

1.0

1993

48

39

10

2

1

h. Genetically modified (GM) food will be useful in the fight against third world hunger.

7.3

29.3

43.3

15.3

4.8

i. Current regulations are sufficient to protect people from any risks linked to GM food.    

16.7

48.7

30.8

2.9

1

j. If food I was eating in a restaurant contained GM ingredients, I would not mind.

2.2

17.0

30.8

35.5

14.5

 

Table 5: Perception of the benefits and risks of genetic engineering 1993-2003

Q6. Do you personally believe each of these scientific discoveries and developments is a worthwhile area for scientific research?  Why?...                         Y=Yes                     N= No      DK=Don't know    

Q7. Do you have any worries about the impact of research or its applications of these scientific discoveries and developments?  How much?   Why?..       W0=No    W1= few                  W2=Some               W3=A lot                 

 

 

Worthwhile area?

Worried about impact

%

Yes

No

DK

W0

W1

W2

W3

Computers

2003

82

4

14

34

50

11

4

1993

85

3

12

57

34

7

2

In vitro fertilization (IVF)

2003

56

18

26

15

48

25

12

1993

47

23

30

13

45

28

14

1991

58

21

21

21

29

23

18

Genetic Engineering

2003

60

8

32

13

45

31

11

1993

57

10

33

22

39

24

15

1991

76

7

17

19

29

21

20

Pesticides

2003

75

10

15

15

42

29

14

1993

84

9

7

21

36

26

17

1991

89

4

7

27

23

25

18

Cloning

2003

28

27

45

7

24

27

41

 

 


Arguably, Japanese have the highest familiarity with the word "biotechnology" in the world.  In 1991 two surveys found that 97% had heard of the word (Macer, 1992a), confirmed by results of 94% in 1993 (Macer, 1994a) and 89% in 1995 by Hoban (1997).  It is clear that there is at least high understanding of the word, and programs on genetics and biotechnology are to be seen on Japanese television almost every day, and in most major newspapers (Hayashi and Macer, 1999). The 2003 survey described here suggests a similar result to 1993, suggesting it has reached some sort of plateau (Table 3).

Daily household production of fermented vegetables is one reason for the high general awareness of biotechnology in Japan. Fermented vegetables are usually grown in the Japan with the exception of Korean kimuchi, which is made from Chinese cabbage.  Basically sake is made domestically, and Japanese brewers have been cautious over the clear association of "GM" with a product.  A product produced through "Bio" can be seen very positively, but this narrow line has been maintained through careful expansion of products into new markets. 

The prefix "bio" has been applied to many new words in common Japanese language, like biocandy or biocosmetics, maybe more so than in the language of the public in most other countries (Macer, 1992a). There is a very positive view of the contribution of science to improving the quality of life and economy.  There have been a variety of international public opinion polls that have examined the level of interest that people have in science and technology, in addition to those looking at interest in biotechnology and genetic engineering.  In international questionnaires, Japanese tend to score well in scientific knowledge. Young people tend to know more than old, and males more than females, and higher education increases knowledge, but these are tendencies that have little or no predictive value in forecasting whether a given person will view biotechnology in a positive or negative light (Macer, 1992a; 1994a).

Over the 1990s surveys have shown that television has replaced newspaper as the major source of information about biotechnology in Japan (Macer et al. 1997; Ng et al. 2000). There are also many science magazines, like Newton, though they have more feature reviews in the style of the English language Scientific American than of the New Scientist, however some people in society will never be attracted by scientific terms.

General attitudes towards some issues in bioethics and biotechnology were assessed by a series of questions in Table 4.

 

4.2. High public expectations of biotechnology

There are positive opinions towards science in Japan. In the 1993 International Bioethics Survey (Macer, 1994a), when asked about specific developments of technology, including in vitro fertilization, computers, pesticides, nuclear power, biotechnology and genetic engineering, both benefits and risks were cited by many respondents in Japan, as in the other countries (Australia, Hong Kong, India, Israel, New Zealand, The Philippines, Russia, Singapore and Thailand).  In Japan 74% saw biotechnology as worthwhile, less than 85% in the 1991 survey (Macer, 1992), but still at a high level.  In both years 37% said that they had no worries about its development.  When open comments were placed into categories, 30% of those who cited a benefit in 1993 said it would help humanity, 19% agriculture in general, and 15% said it would help science. About a half did not say any benefit or concern.  In addition to those who saw it as unnatural, the major worry was of human misuse.

In 1997 telephone surveys (Macer et al., 1997), a question on the perceived impact of seven areas of science and technology was used. Comparisons with the data from the European Commission Eurobarometer 46.1 reveal that there is more optimism about solar energy, new materials and space exploration, in Japan (and New Zealand and Canada) but similar optimism towards computers, information technology, and telecommunications to the EU (Gaskell et al. 2000).  However there is less optimism about biotechnology and genetic engineering in Japan (with New Zealand being even lower).  A majority, 62%, in Japan thought that biotechnology would improve the way we live in the next twenty years, 12% thought it would make things worse and 4% said no effect, with 22% saying they do not know; with 54% seeing genetic engineering as worthwhile, 12% seeing it as making things worse and 7% having no effect. In the same questions in a 2000 survey, the public perceived computers and information technology as the most beneficial examples of science and technology, the third was biotechnology, and the least was genetic engineering (Ng et al. 2000).

However, in this 2003 national random survey, the proportion of the public who said that they thought that genetic engineering was worthwhile stayed at a similar level to the same questions 1993, being 60% compared to 57% in 1993 (Table 5).  Only 8% said that they did not think it was worthwhile compared to 10% in 1993.  It appears that the peak of concern about genetic engineering was in the year 2000 (Ng et al., 2000).

 

4.3. Increasing concern about genetic engineering since 1997

The drop in support is seen from in 1991, when 76% in Japan said that they thought that genetic engineering would be a worthwhile area in their country, while 20% were extremely worried about it (Macer, 1992a).  In 1993, only 57% believed that genetic engineering was a worthwhile area for scientific research, but still only 15% had a lot of worries about it. In 2003 60% saw it as worthwhile, and 11% had a lot of concerns about it (Table 5).  In Japan there may have been no general trend to lose hope in genetic engineering over time, unlike that observed in Europe (Gaskell et al., 2000) or New Zealand.

Using different questions, while the 2000 surveys found 59% thought genetic engineering would be positive over the next twenty years, similar to 54% in 1997, there was a doubling of the proportion of persons who thought life would be worse over the next twenty years between 1997 (12%) to 2000 (24%) (Ng et al., 1997). However the 2003 surveys suggest that overall there is not a significant increase in the proportion of Japanese persons who are extremely concerned about genetic engineering.

When people were asked in 1997 to examine what images came to mind from the term "biotechnology", 8% expressed a concern and 4% expressed a positive view of science, but most people just mentioned something technical (Macer et al., 1997a).  There is strong support for the specific examples of environmental release of genetically modified organisms in all Asian countries (Macer, 1994a).  Plant genetic engineering examples are seen more favorably than microbes, animals or human applications (Macer 1992a), except for gene therapy for diseases like cancer, which is seen very positively in Japan (Macer et al. 1995).  Despite the concern expressed about genetic engineering, in 1997 35% in Japan said they would buy genetically modified fruits if they tasted better suggesting they do have postive images to products.  However, only 8% thought current regulations are sufficient to protect people from any risks linked to modern biotechnology.

The Japanese public has been able to differentiate between different applications of biotechnology in all surveys that have been conducted. Table 6 shows the results of time trends from 1997 to 2003 on specific applications of biotechnology.

The 2000 survey included national random samples of scientists, which provides some interesting comparisons for the reasoning. The results of the survey show more of the public and scientists were aware of GM crops than food made by modern biotechnology (Ng et al., 2000). The perceived benefits were similar between the two applications. Around 50% of the public and 60% of the scientists agreed with the utility, while about 40% of the public and 30% of the scientists disagreed in 2000. Similar to perceived benefits, perceived risks, moral acceptability and overall encouragement were similar between the two applications as well. Half of both the public and scientists answered that GM crops were risky. These trends were seen similarly among both the public and scientists sample. In general, the scientists were more accepting of the two applications than the public. However, when comparison was made between the public and scientists attitudes on the 5-point-self-indicated scale, no significance was found on the risk perception of two applications. Finally when the respondents expressed their attitudes towards overall encouragement of two applications, 40% of the public and 50% of the scientists expressed agreement similarly towards two applications.

On the question shown in Table 6 about the usefulness of an agricultural application for better food and drinks, there was a drop in the proportion of people who expressed positive attitudes to 35% in 2003, from 52% in 2000. Risk perception also changed. The proportion of people who thought it was not risky dropped significantly from 35% in 2000 to 20% in 2003. Besides, The proportion of people who answered it is risky increased by 7% from 49% in 2000 to 56% in 2003. However, the awareness of this application among respondents was not as high as in 2000 (55% in 2003, 69% in 2000). Overall attitudes of respondents became slightly more pessimistic (8 points drop for agreement, and 5 points increase for disagreement). Thus despite the general stabilization in attitudes to genetic engineering discussed in the previous section, since 1997, the acceptance of GM food has decreased, revealing the major concern is perception of health concerns to the consumers. This could also be due to the concerns people have because the government decided to label the foods, thus implying some risks.

The trends of self-indicated attitude to use of human genes in bacteria to make insulin are similar to those from the same question that was used in the 1997 survey (Table 6). However, moral acceptability of the public dropped from 56% in 1997 to 44% in 2000, as did the overall encouragement from 66% in 1997 to 53% (Macer et al. 1997). When the open comments were analyzed it was found that more of the public raised negative reasons such as "Ethical Concerns", "We Don't Need", or "Unnatural Feelings". On the other hand, the scientists had more comments in the "Balanced View" group. These trends are widely seen through all four of the medical applications. Regarding risk perception, similar proportions of the public and scientists raised comments about "Human Benefits" in usefulness (b) (more than 90% of the respondents), moral acceptability (d) (around 60%), and social acceptability (e) (around 60%). The perception of benefits or utility is greater than that of risks in this application among the respondents (The details of these results have been submitted elsewhere for publication.)

In addition to awareness and knowledge, understanding is the factor of acceptance of new technologies. In order to measure people's perception of benefits and risks, self-evaluation of respondents' attitudes towards usefulness, risk, and overall encouragement of the applications were scored depending on the degree of their attitudes. In cases of people who definitely agree with the use of the applications, the score will be +6 points. In cases of people who definitely disagree, the score will be -6 points. In other cases people balance benefits and risks, it is conditional approval or disapproval. The score will be in between -6 and +6 points. Figure 1 shows the results of the scoring of 1997, 2000 and 2003 surveys. It is clear that the acceptance of food and xenotransplantation has been decreasing.

In order to explore the reason of respondents' attitudes, open comments were combined with self-evaluation scales. Reasons given in the open comments were categorized into 7 broad groups; human benefits, balanced view, risky, ethical issues, we don't need, unnatural, and personal choice. One example of the comparison of the results made between 2000 and 2003 is shown in Figure 2. One of the reasons for the decreased acceptance of food applications was less people saw benefits. For medicines, people's attitudes became slightly more positive from 2000, this would be partly increased balanced view. One factor for the decreased acceptance in xenotransplantation, was more perceived risks from this application. For genetic testing, there was a significant decrease in the proportion of ethical concerns, while those of risk concerns and benefits increased. Perceived benefits of genetic testing increased. More people saw benefits of medicine. For genetic testing, more respondents expressed more balanced views than they did in 2000, which might lead to more of the public accepting this application.

Some people knew this application is already practiced in Japan, giving comments like, "Actually it is useful, and has already been utilized". Since there have been some scandals in pharmaceutical companies in Japan, some people have skepticism on viability of technology, limit of control of experimental organisms, or appropriate use of technology including commercialization. They were not common however.

Interestingly for GM pigs as heart donors (Table 7), the proportion of respondents who did not think that the technique was morally acceptable decreased from 39% in 1997 to 24% in 2000, suggesting that people in Japan might be more supportive of xenotransplantation over time as a moral issue (Macer et al., 2002). These results might be partly due to the high level of publicity regarding the patients who are waiting for organ transplants that has been made since the enactment of the organ transplant law in 1997. However, there was higher support for transgenic mice for cancer research (Ng et al. 2000). Medical need was the most frequently cited reason for the utility of xenotransplants (b), being the biggest proportion in the "Human Benefits" group of reasons among all the respondents (Figure 2). However when asked overall whether they thought xenotransplantation should be encouraged (e), a number of comments saying "no need" over-rode comments like "saving life", even among the scientists. The major risks (c) that the respondents expressed were those of safety (40% of the respondents) and ethical issues (30%), including animal rights. The proportion of the public who thought it was unnatural to mix animal organs into humans was greater than the scientists (χ2=5.11, d.f.=1, p<0.05). The safety issues included not only the fear of infectious viruses, and environmental safety of GMOs, but also fears over intergenerational transmission of genetic changes to the children of the recipients.

 


Table 7

Food and Drinks

Human genes in bacteria

Pigs with human hearts

Preimplantation diagnosis

%

P97

P2000

P2003

S2000

P97

P2000

P2003

S2000

P97

P2000

P2003

S2000

P97

P2000

P2003

S2000

a. Have you heard of this application?

Yes

56.6

69.2

55.4

91.5

31.7

59

46.3

92.6

42.6

66.8

61.6

88.5

35.8

58.4

51.4

90.7

No

36.4

30.8

32.4

8.5

60.1

40.7

43.3

7.4

55.9

33.2

29.2

11.5

56.5

41.2

37.7

8.8

DK

7.0

0.0

12.2

0.0

8.2

.3

10.4

0.0

5.5

0.0

9.2

0.0

7.7

0.4

10.9

0.6

b. How useful do you find this application is for society?

Definitely agree

14.9

15.2

8.3

21.8

33.2

29.9

19.2

50.3

16.2

13.7

6.1

20.6

24.9

19.5

16

25.6

Agree

43.7

36.6

25.4

40.2

40.6

35.7

45.6

35.1

35.8

27.7

25.2

31.2

37.6

28.5

38.4

41.1

Disagree

22.3

25.7

36.5

20.1

10.5

12.9

6.6

6.1

20.9

24.9

24.1

25.6

12.4

20.6

17.7

17.2

Definitely disagree

5.5

11.3

12.2

13.2

1.5

7.1

3.0

4.7

9.5

19.3

21.1

17.8

4.7

13

3.9

7.5

DK

13.6

11.3

17.7

4.7

14.2

14.3

25.5

3.9

17.6

14.4

23.5

4.7

20.3

18.5

24

8.6

c. How risky do you think this application is for society?

Definitely agree

14.6

18.4

16

14.6

12.2

16.6

6.6

12.2

26.1

25.9

24.4

22

14.7

23

9.6

15.6

Agree

33.7

30.9

41

26.5

27.7

20.2

25.5

19.2

32.8

23.4

34.2

22.3

23.6

26.4

27.2

35.3

Disagree

30.0

26.2

16.8

31.2

30.4

27.8

30.4

31.1

18.2

19.8

11.8

31

29.6

19

25.3

25.4

Definitely disagree

2.5

8.9

1.9

12

4.2

10.8

3.6

27.6

3.7

7.6

1.6

12.2

10.2

8.9

5.5

13.2

DK

19.5

15.6

24.2

15.7

25.4

24.5

34

9.9

19.1

23.4

27.9

12.2

21.8

22.7

32.4

10.5

d. How morally acceptable do you think this application is?

Definitely agree

4.2

8.5

-

14.7

11.5

16.2

-

31.1

5.5

7.3

4.9

9.7

14.7

8.3

7.7

11.6

Agree

40.9

22.6

-

33.5

44.4

28.4

-

40.1

18.2

16.4

14.3

27.4

31.1

23.3

38.1

36.1

Disagree

29.8

30.7

-

22.5

20.7

23.2

-

9.9

39.3

24

24.7

23.6

22.4

27.1

23.8

23.9

Definitely disagree

6.7

16.3

-

12.9

4.5

9.6

-

8.4

23.1

28.7

41.5

20.6

9.5

16.2

9.9

11.6

DK

18.4

22.0

-

16.5

18.9

22.5

-

10.5

13.9

23.6

14.6

18.6

22.3

25.2

20.5

16.8

e. All in all this application should encouraged?

Definitely agree

18.6

10.6

4.7

19.1

28.2

22.1

11.9

42.2

14.0

11

5.5

18.4

23.7

12.3

9.3

18

Agree

38.2

27.5

25.4

32.4

38.0

31.4

44.6

35.5

34.2

18.3

20.8

26.9

35.7

25.4

36.8

35.7

Disagree

26.3

29.2

36.2

22

20.2

18.8

13.6

9.5

26.9

21.2

29

21.9

19.5

21.6

20.3

20.7

Definitely disagree

6.5

14.1

13.5

19.7

2.8

8.5

3.6

7.8

13.5

27.5

20

21.9

6.7

14.9

4.7

13.2

DK

10.4

18.7

20.2

6.9

10.8

19.2

26.3

4.9

11.2

20.4

24.7

7.6

14.5

25.7

28.8

12.3

 

The questions in 2003 included the above four options (earlier years have included more options (Macer et al. 1997; Ng et al. 2000)), and were:

I am going to show you a list of applications which are coming out of modern biotechnology. For each one, please tell me whether you have heard of the application, then let me know whether you definitely agree, tend to agree, tend to disagree, or definitely disagree with the following questions.

Q11.  Using modern biotechnology in the production of food and drinks, for example, to make them higher in protein, keep longer, or taste better.

Q12.  Introducing human genes into bacteria to produce medicines and vaccines, for example, the production of insulin for diabetics.

Q13.  Introducing human genes into animals to produce organs for human transplants, such as pigs for human heart transplants.

Q14.  Using genetic testing to determine whether human embryos have a genetic predisposition for serious diseases such as muscular dystrophy.


 

Figure 1: Trends in overall support for GM food, GM medicines, xenotransplants and genetic testing from 1997-2003 from Q11-14.

 

 

 

Figure 2: Summary of Reasons for Utility compared between 2000 and 2003 for the general public in Japan (Q11b-14b)

 


Table 8: Attitudes towards cross-species gene transfer in genetic engineering

Q8.  Do you think it would be acceptable to use genetic engineering to make mosquitoes unable to be a vector for human diseases like malaria or Japanese encephalophy?  Why?

Q9.  Genes from most types of organisms are interchangeable.  Would potatoes made more nutritious through biotechnology be acceptable or unacceptable to you if genes were added from another type of plant?  Why?

Q10.  Would such potatoes be acceptable or unacceptable to you if the new genes came from an animal like a chicken?  Why?

 

Insect

Plant - plant

Animal-plant

%

P2003

P93

P2000

P2003

S2000

P93

P2000

P2003

S2000

Yes

33.8

39.2

32.3

25.5

48.9

10.6

18.6

5.2

37.5

No

16.5

25.5

39.5

35.3

35.2

40.3

54.0

54.8

43.2

DK

49.7

35.3

28.2

39.1

15.8

49.1

27.4

40.1

19.3

*P1993, 2000 Q9 read:" Q5. Genes from most types of organisms are interchangeable.  Would rice made more nutritious through biotechnology be acceptable or unacceptable to you if genes were added from another type of plant, such as corn?" Q10 read " Q6. Would such rice be acceptable or unacceptable to you if the new genes came from an animal?"

 

Table 9: Concerns over release of GMOs

"If there was no direct risk to humans and only very remote risks to the environment, would you approve or

disapprove of the environmental use of genetically engineered organisms designed to produce...?"

%

P91

P93

P2000

P2003

S91

S2000

Tomatoes with better taste

Yes

-

69

58.2

63

-

59.0

No

-

20

31.8

24

-

32.5

DK

-

11

10

14

-

8.5

Healthier meat (e.g. less fat)

Yes

-

57

51.6

52

-

56.5

No

-

26

33.0

29

-

33.5

DK

-

17

15.4

18

-

9.9

Larger sport fish

Yes

19

22

19.4

17

16.1

19.3

No

50

54

64

60

56.9

66.5

DK

31

24

16.5

23

27.0

14.2

Bacteria to clean up oils spills

Yes

75

71

65.4

67

83.1

65.9

No

7

13

20.7

15

6.7

23.9

DK

18

16

13.9

19

10.2

10.2

Disease Resistant Crops

Yes

75

66

54.5

51

85.7

60.7

No

6

17

28.7

24

5.0

26.1

DK

19

17

16.8

24

9.3

13.2

Cows which produce more milk

Yes

-

44

42.1

37

-

59.7

No

-

32

39.6

35

-

29.0

DK

-

24

18.3

28

-

11.4

Mosquitoes which do not transmit human disease

Yes

-

-

-

53

-

-

No

-

-

-

20

-

-

DK

-

-

-

27

-

-

 

Table 10: Approval of fetal diagnosis by different groups in Japan

%

Public

Students

Academics

Doctor

Nurse

BioT.

Scie.

Period

1991

1993

1995

2003

1991

1993

1991

1995

1995

1993

1991

1991

N

532

352

76(T)

376

198

435

706

173

101

294

225

540

Q17.  Some genetic diseases can be predicted in the fetus during the early stages of pregnancy.  Do you think such tests should be available under government-funded Medicare? Why?

Yes

76

76

72

57

76

74

71

54

53

82

73

71

No

7

8

7

20

7

9

9

28

28

3

8

8

DK

17

16

21

23

17

17

20

18

19

15

19

21

Q18.  Would you want such a test during (your/your spouse's) pregnancy? Why?

Yes

57

61

56

40

58

66

59

42

48

57

61

60

No

17

16

24

31

12

10

17

39

32

10

15

17

DK

26

23

20

29

30

24

24

19

20

33

24

23

 


Table 11: Increased concern about privacy

Q23. If someone is a carrier of a defective gene or has a genetic disease, who else besides that person deserves to know that information?  Yes                         No                  Don't Know

%

Y1993

N1993

DK1993

Y2003

N2003

DK2003

a. Employer

19

56

25

9

74

17

b. Insurer

18

56

26

9

70

22

c. Spouse or fiance

90

4

6

70

17

13

d. Other immediate family

89

5

6

70

15

15

Table 12: Optimism towards gene therapy

Q24. If tests showed that you were likely to get a serious or fatal genetic disease later in life, how willing would you be to undergo therapy to have those genes corrected before symptoms appear? Why?

%

P1991

P1993

P2000

P2003

S91

S2000

Strongly Agree

25.0

42.0

23.6

25

25.4

27.5

Agree

29.0

24.0

24.3

32

28.1

25.6

Disagree

18.0

15.0

22

20

15.6

14.2

Strongly Disagree

12.0

6.0

15.8

6

13.6

24.4

Don't Know

16.0

13.0

14.3

17

17.3

8.3

Table 13: Acceptance of gene therapy in specific cases

Q25.  How do you feel about scientists changing the genetic makeup of human cells to:

%

P93

P2000

P2003

S2000

a. Cure a usually fatal disease, such as cancer

Definitely Agree

42.0

38.3

39.3

40.1

Agree

41.0

34.8

43.2

40.6

Disagree

3.0

12.9

5.0

10.1

Definitely Disagree

2.0

4.3

2.2

5.6

Don't Know

12.0

9.8

10.2

3.6

b. Reduce the risk of developing a fatal disease later in life.

Definitely Agree

35.0

28.1

40.5

30.5

Agree

40.0

35.2

40.3

40.9

Disagree

5.0

17.2

4.1

15.4

Definitely Disagree

1.0

5.5

2.2

5

Don't Know

9.0

14.1

12.9

8.1

e. Improve the physical characteristics that children would inherit.

Definitely Agree

12.0

11.7

11.4

3.4

Agree

16.0

12.9