ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

22 November 2000

Genetically modified corn supplies require strict control - Asahi News 20 Nov 2000

The ministry revealed a complete lack of any sense of responsibility as the body in charge of keeping such unapproved imports out of Japan.
Genetically modified U.S. corn, which is on the Japanese government's  list of banned imports, has been found in food for human consumption sold here, as well as in animal feed.
 Called StarLink, the corn is approved in the United States for animal consumption. However, it has not been approved for human consumption because a pest-control protein it contains is difficult to digest and may cause allergic reactions.
 Since StarLink was detected in Japan, the Japanese and U.S.  governments have agreed on measures to prevent it being mixed  into Japan-bound shipments in future.
 Of course something had to be done about it. But what we find incredible is that it has taken Tokyo and Washington nearly six months to reach any agreement after the problem was first pointed out by a consumer group calling for a ban on genetically modified food.
The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry pestered the group by asking endless questions about tests it proposed, and  rejected the group's proposal for offering samples on the grounds
 that nobody at the ministry was able to determine which samples would be appropriate for testing. In short, the ministry revealed a complete lack of any sense of responsibility as the body in charge of keeping such unapproved imports out of Japan.

Perhaps the ministry thought a small amount of StarLink corn mixed in animal feed could not do much harm because it was approved in the United States for animal consumption. But if that was  the case, it meant there was no point in upholding the government's decision against importing the corn.

The ministry's attitude changed only after the StarLink controversy became a major social issue in the United States.
In mid-September, a U.S. consumer group reported that StarLink corn had been detected in taco shells sold by Kraft Foods. The company recalled the taco shells after an in-house investigation  confirmed the claim.

Meanwhile, Aventis CropScience, the developer of StarLink, has announced it will stop selling the product. The company has also decided to purchase all this year's crop from growers under the  supervision of the Department of Agriculture, and then use it strictly for animal feed only.
In October, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered the recall of all products containing StarLink corn, while the Environment Protection Agency demanded that Aventis surrender its licence to grow the corn for commercial purposes. The company complied, and the license was revoked.
It is not yet known how this corn for animal consumption came to be mixed in food for human consumption. But there is no question about sloppy management of the distribution process.

In late December, a consumer group found StarLink corn in a type of flour sold in Japan as an ingredient for home-baked bread.  The Health and Welfare Ministry is currently testing a sample,  but the flour's distributor has been ordered to suspend its operation while the corn's import route is traced.

Genetically modified crops are approved for human consumption only if they have cleared safety tests. But in Japan and the United States, crops that have failed the tests are known to have been mixed prior to distribution with those that have passed.

Aventis maintains there has never been a case of allergic reactions  to StarLink corn, but there is no guarantee it will never happen.  All that is certain is that this corn has been mixed into food  for human consumption.
Where anything that may cause health damage is concerned, businesses and government agencies alike must take their responsibility more seriously.
 (Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 15)


ngin bulletin archive