Japan issues tighter labelling regulations for genetically modified product components

JAPAN—Japan will enact a national ‘non-GM’ labelling system update in 2023, following an announcement from Japanese Consumer Affairs Agency (CAA) that states that nine major agrifood products—soybeans, corn, potatoes, rapeseed, cottonseed, alfalfa, sugar beet, papaya, and mustard greens—will be required to follow mandatory GM labeling rules.

All processed foods that are made using the nine agrifood products will also be subject to mandatory GM labeling rules if the genetically modified DNA or protein produced by the DNA is still detectable after processing.

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The 33 processed food product categories highlighted by CAA cover include just about every type of food that could be made from the nine types of produce, e.g., tofu, soymilk, corn and potato snacks, canned foods, starches, grits, flours and so on.

Of particular focus in the announcement were staple items like GM soybeans engineered to produce stearidonic acid as well as corn engineered with high lysine content, with the agency adding that items such as corn oil or soy sauce made using these as ingredients will also be subject to GM labelling.

Whilst under the new regulations, manufacturers and producers do have stricter standards to conform to, this is laying a good foundation for the authorities to provide consumers with food safety assurance, and its slow but steady addition of new GM food products (e.g., mustard greens) does show that it is looking to broaden its portfolio of approved GM foods.

The motivation behind this is not hard to deduce – government data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) has already shown that the local food sufficiency rate has been declining yearly, from 73% in 1965 to around the 40% mark in the past several years, and it got a further rude wake-up call in the form of supply chain constraints during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“Japan’s food imports are highly dependent on a small number of countries/regions [as] food production is always basically first directed to domestic consumption in each country before the surplus is exported,” MAFF said during the supply crunch.

“So, to maintain and improve food self-sufficiency, Japan will work to seek out more agricultural resources and technology to boost yields, increase stockpiles and stabilise our imports.”

A good example of other markets that are pretty pro-GM foods but taking it slowly are Australia and New Zealand, both of which have been steadily increasing their range of approved GM foods under Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) over the past few years.

Developing countries are also slowly increasing approved legislation and opening the door to research and commercialization of GMO crops, as they seek to expand their export markets, improve domestic living conditions, and address food insecurity in the wake of conflict and climate change.

Some 19 developing nations — including India, Pakistan, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Sudan, Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Vietnam, Philippines, Honduras and Bangladesh — now account for 53 percent of the world’s acreage in GM crops.

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