Statement on GMO Labeling Policy in Japan

See also Statement on Cloning / (Japanese)

We are a group of ordinary citizens who meet together to discuss life and biotechnology. We speak as individuals and not as representatives of our employers or our specialties. We cover a wide range of occupations and experience, but we work together to discuss and learn about the environmental, ethical and social issues associated with the use of biotechnology based on scientific knowledge and practical reality. We wish to share what we have learnt from each other during our study of the issues associated with genetically modified foods.

1. We emphasize the need for an open and transparent process of the introduction of novel foods and products to our daily diet. This responsibility is shared by scientists making the new varieties, seed companies and suppliers, farmers, transporters and agents, food processors, and retailers.

2. There has been extensive research on the environmental and human health issues raised by GMOs and genetically modified foods since the 1980s. Until now there has been no concrete case of human health suffering from consumption of genetically modified foods themselves. However, research should continue on commercial scale releases.

3. There has been much conflicting information on the issues raised, and the responsibility for this rests with the persons speaking in the media and the media selection of information. The media should be the bridge between researchers and people. The media should carefully consider whether the information provided is accurate, and if it really helps consumers make informed decisions.

4. There should be long term monitoring of the use of GMO crops for environmental concerns, and this can be accomplished with cooperation between seed companies and farmers.

5. It will be very difficult to monitor long-term health effects of genetically modified foods because every person already eats so many different foods, many of them are known to have health risks exceeding any potential risks posed by foods which contain components made from genetically modified organisms. For example, many everyday traditional products such as grilled fish and meat, beverages, sauces, contain known carcinogens, but these products are not tested. However, decisions should be made on a case by case basis considering international practices and recommendations of Codex Alimentarius.

6. There is a need for careful assessment of new potential allergens in food, which is a reason for including labels on food that has any such component at allergic level. Food safety derives from the ethical principle of do no harm.

7. We welcome the decision of MAFF that proposes to introduce a guidelines and policy on the sale of food made from GMOs and through recombinant DNA technology, as a starting point to promote more transparent systems. We wish to make some comments specifically relating to these guidelines.

8. We consumers should have access to all products in our community even though individual supermarkets may stop selling certain products, to exercise market choice. Ideally supermarkets should display the products side-by-side to allow free choice of consumers.

9. The special handling of different seeds has a precedent in organic agriculture, and in different varieties. However like all special handling, it will increase costs. The costs of the product should be met by the consumers who chose that product.

10. Those persons who want to have identity preserved (IP) foodstuffs should pay the extra costs of that process, and it should not be passed on to all consumers. However, the system of safety checks should be supported by the food industry, and the government.

11. The verification of not genetically modified segregated label is the most difficult to proof, and there should be penalties for false labeling of food as "GMO free." We want the penalty system to be clarified, for example will violations be imposed under the JAS penal regulations or another system? The difference between strict and bulk identity preserved IP handling, that is used to define the proposed exemption levels should be clarified. How will the consumer know? The proposed exemption levels should be developed consistent with international standards.

12. Peoples perception of risks vary with the individual and are often not scientific, however, it is a fundamental human right to avoid significant risks. One way to compare significant risks is to compare to existing foodstuffs that a person consumes. The guidelines make an attempt at reasonable discretion between foods that require labels and those which do not, but all foods included or excluded should be done so on the basis of scientific rationale from volume of food and components included. The long-term effect of consuming GM food and vectors should be monitored, and allergy testing should be ensured.

13. It is not always true that there is more comfort with more knowledge, but we live in an informed society and people should have access to extra information if they wish it. A practical system should be introduced and we propose that one reliable and standard information site on each product should be made on the Internet by an independent advisory group, possibly to the MAFF/MHW in cooperation with companies and consumers. This would lessen the conflicts between different data so that people could trust someone. Both positive and negative information should be presented.

14. Japan is dependent upon imported goods, and a variety of health claims are made about domestic and foreign products. Any information should be carefully provided, not only for GM food. The government should be more proactive as the representative of the concerns of all persons in society not only the major industry or loud voices of protest. There could be lessons from the creation of the independent food council in the UK.

15. There should be a system established for prevention of risks in the event of any accidents, or unforeseen events, with clear responsibilities assigned. This type of incident may occur in growing the crops, so seeds and seedlings should be labeled clearly for farmers, and monitoring should be coordinated between production and consumption systems.

16. All persons who are informed about these issues have a responsibility to share this information with others. While there should be more education of the issues in schools, we cannot leave spreading of information to formal education. People discuss these topics among their family, circle of friends and colleagues, and in society, and all citizens have responsibility. Some consumers can be easily influenced by news, although a majority is not so interested, but information should still be accessible to allow proper understanding. Between consumers and producers there should be a monitoring system developed, to ensure quality of information.

In conclusion we would argue that any new technology should be subject to reasonable benefit/risk assessment, and new options be presented to farmers and consumers.

Signed by the following members of the Life and Bio Thinking Group November 1999

Takashi Etou, Importer

Kazumi Inagaki, Freelance translator

Akihiro Oates, Journalist

Yuri Oiwa, Political Journalist

Izumi Ohtani, High School Ethics Teacher

Makina Kato, Student, University of Tsukuba

Fumiyo Kitahara, Company worker

Naoki Shiraishi, High School Biology Teacher

Mariko Takahashi, Science Journalist

Yu Tatesawa, Company Worker

Hitomi Tsusaka, Company worker

Satoko Hayashi, Student, University of Tsukuba

Fumi Maekawa, Eubios Ethics Institute

Darryl Macer, Eubios Ethics Institute

Enquiries to:Darryl Macer, Eubios Ethics Institute, Japan Email:

Statement on GMO Labeling Policy in Japan (Japanese)

On Eubios Ethics Institute