Japan, the world’s largest corn importer has long had animal feed that uses genetically modified organisms, or GMO, but is still holding out against genetically modified corn for human food use.
But food makers in Japan are caught between U.S. farmers demanding a higher
premium for GMO-free corn. The rising costs and difficulty of dealing with
modified corn separately from unmodified could also see more tie-ups in the
“We’ve started to ask each of our customers in an interview
whether and how much they can take,” said Yoshihiko Shikakura, senior managing
director at the sales department of Oji Cornstarch, a joint venture between Oji
Paper and the trading company Mitsui.
Use of GMO
Until recently, most corn processors have used only non-GMO
crops to produce corn starch and corn syrup, a widely used sweetener, as some
customers, mainly beer and drug makers, refuse to use GMOs. But smaller corn
processors have already used unseparated cargoes, taking advantage of lax
labeling laws for small quantities of raw materials in foods in Japan. Use of
GMO could be costly for corn processors. If an unapproved GMO trait is found,
importers, not exporters, are responsible to pay the extra cost to dispose of
the unwanted material.
Japan will approve the use of GMO in human food, Oji Cornstarch is already
prepared to process the GM material. The company last year formed an alliance
with Gun-ei Chemical Industry and another smaller rival. Being a larger company
makes it easier to introduce GMO corn, as their enlarged businesses can allocate
complete plants to handle GMO supplies separately.
Another group is also
forming. Nihon Shokuhin Kako announced an alliance with Kato Kagaku in January,
bringing together two of the top three processors, while a grouping of smaller
processors is also possible. “The more the non-GMO premium rises, the more
business alignment is formed here,” said Shikakura of Oji Cornstarch.
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