Process Management

News last update:6 Aug 2012

Long struggle to grow GM crops in Japan

The Japanese agriculture ministry has set up a study team 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 consumption.

Full-fledged commercial cultivation of GM crops started in other countries, such as the Untied States, about 10 years ago.

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.

Approved, but not grown
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.

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

"Medical" GM rice
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.

Long way to go
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.

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