WHAT ARE WE EATING?
Moves Pick Up to Label Genetically Modified Food
October 13, 1999
Preparations are already underway for the introduction of a system that will make it mandatory to label some genetically modified (GM) food products from April 2001. As consumers become more concerned about these new items, more and more companies in the industry are beginning to label their products as non-GM; others who expect to see sluggish sales in modified items are planning to concentrate on non-GM materials. Trading companies and food-inspection firms are also working on business plans in response to GM products, and moves to freeze research and development of modified food products are gaining momentum. The labeling of GM foods looks likely to cause confusion for some time to come.
Mandatory Labeling In the Works
At present the government has permitted the domestic distribution of six GM items recognized as safe: soybeans, corn, potatoes, rapeseed, cotton, and tomatoes. Some 90% of products that are thought to use these GM materials, including cooking oil, soy sauce, and animal feed, will be exempt from labeling requirements. In practice labeling will probably be limited to just a few products, such as tofu, processed foods, corn-based snacks, and cornstarch.
The scope of products for which labeling is required has been narrowed by the limited ability of scientific testing to verify GM content. For example, the analysis of modified DNA is an effective method for checking whether a product contains GM materials. But since the DNA changes with temperature and fermentation, it is impossible to verify GM levels of highly processed products, such as cooking oil and soy sauce. In contrast, because "non-GM" labeling is undertaken voluntarily by companies, there is likely to be a deluge of products with such labeling.
Switching to Nonmodified Foods
In the beer industry, one top maker is moving toward non-GM products. At present it uses modified cornstarch as an ingredient for its beer, but by spring 2001 it plans to switch completely to non-GM brewing. At the same time, this company has put a freeze on the research and development of its own GM technology. Since 1994 it had been working on modified tomatoes, and it had succeeded in developing a species that stayed fresh longer than usual without spoiling; but now the company has abandoned plans to put seeds and seedlings on the market for the time being.
Moves Extend to Other Industries
Several other leading companies are moving into the inspection business, the DNA testing of food products to certify them as non-GM. One liquor manufacturer that began inspection operations in spring 1998 has seen the number of requests for inspection jump this year to about 100 a month. This number is expected to increase even further after the introduction of the new labeling system.
Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.