Från Progressive Farmers
Japanese Consumers Demand Labelling of Gene Foods
From Reuters Friday, March 13
TOKYO - Japanese consumers are stepping up calls on the government to
label foods containing genetically modified farm products as more gene-altered
food starts creeping into their kitchens.
``The government should enact laws on GMOs (genetically modified organisms)
and should review the checking system,'' said Masae Wada, deputy chairman
of the Housewives Association, a consumer group.
``It's strange that there are no laws on the distribution of genetically
modified products, while laws exist on agricultural chemicals and foodstuffs
additives,'' she said. ``There are too many unknown factors, including
the effects on human health.''
While consumers worry over the possible health hazards, supporters say
gene technology makes it possible to produce food more cheaply because
crops give a greater yield using less land, water, insecticide and pesticide.
It can also ensure foods stay fresher for longer and taste better.
So far, Japan's Health Ministry has approved 20 genetically engineered
products, such as soybeans, rapeseed, potatoes and tomatoes under its safety
In the absence of a labelling system, there is no data on how much GMO
the Japanese consume.
Although consumer groups have urged the government to introduce compulsory
labelling for all foods containing gene-changed products, the food industry
and government have been reluctant to take steps on the issue.
They say it would be very difficult and costly as Japan relies heavily
on imports from a vast number of countries for its farm product needs.
The United States, which intends to dramatically increase its output
of GMO, supplies about 90 percent of Japan's total demand for corn and
``There are many things yet to be cleared, such as how or what to label,''
said Kazuhiko Kawamura, assistant manager of the Agriculture Ministry's
food and marketing bureau. ``Even opinions within our GMO study group are
Some importers were concerned that such labelling would intensify consumer
concern over GMO products and prompt them to choose non-GMO products.
``If labelling is introduced, we would need to ship conventional products
separately, which would cost more. Who is going to bear the costs? Are
consumers willing to?'' said a soybean trader at one of Japan's leading
Some trading houses, however, have already started to segregate shipments
of GMO products from conventional products.
``Although prices are higher by about 20 percent, there is demand for
corn that has not been genetically altered,'' said a spokesman at Itochu
The company plans to boost purchases of conventional U.S. corn with
higher oil and protein content than ordinary maize, to 150,000 tonnes this
year, up from 100,000 tonnes in 1997.
Kirin Brewery Co Ltd , on the other hand, has postponed plans to launch
in 1999 sales of a genetically modified tomato developed by its U.S. biotech
``We are afraid commercialisation of the tomato may be several years
ahead. It's essential for consumers to accept our product first,'' said
Kirin spokesman Hirotaka Ishikawa.
``Although the 'flavour saver tomato' has been sold in the United states,
Canada, Mexico and Britain, Japanese consumers are still concerned over
safety of gene foods,'' he said.