Newsletter -SAFETY OF OUR FOODS AND LIFE-
Japan Offspring Fund (JOF) Monthly Newsletter
March/April 1999 No.119-120
Countries that refuse to cultivate and export genetically engineered foods used to suffer a disadvantage in trade competition. However, Brazil and Australia, nations that have declared their products do not contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), have seen a slight rise in crop sales in recent years. On the other hand, Canada, which does not differentiate between transgenic and non-transgenic products, is now losing market share, since a growing number of consumers are demanding GMOs and non-GMOs to be differentiated and labeled.
The total area planted with genetically modified crops is increasing each year, reaching 30 million hectares worldwide in 1998. Now more than half the soybeans and one-third of the corn grown in the United States, and more than half the rapeseed grown in Canada, are estimated to be genetically engineered.
While genetically engineered foods are widely accepted by consumers in the world's two agricultural giants, the United States and Canada, negative sentiments toward genetic engineering prevail among many crop importing nations today. The giants respond to import bans and forced labeling of genetically engineered foods by filing complaints with the WTO against these importers and by resorting to bilateral means.
The British Government announced that it will ban the cultivation of genetically engineered foods that kill herbicide-tolerant insects. A study by Dr. Pasztai showing the toxicity of genetically engineered potatoes containing Bt toxin triggered the debate leading to this announcement (October 1998).
Major supermarkets, such as Asda, Iceland, and Marks and Spencer, have launched new brands that boast GMO-free contents. McDonalds and Burger King have announced that they have eliminated the use of genetically engineered corn and soybeans (February 1999). Schools have stopped using genetically engineered foods in lunches.
Grave Monsanto -- The Indian public has demonstrated against Monsanto's field testing, without Government approval, of genetically engineered foods, uprooting Bt cotton plants and burning them in front of TV cameras and journalists. This past January, 100 NGO groups got together and ran an Anti-Monsanto campaign. The Supreme Court of India has recently ordered Monsanto to stop field tests of Bt cotton.
Organic farmers, whose products were devalued after a field test of genetically engineered crops was carried out near their farms, have claimed that the test adversely affected sales of their products, and have brought a court action.
The sale of genetically engineered corn seed is prohibited. Carrefour, the nation's biggest supermarket franchise, has announced that it will no longer carry foods that contain genetically engineered products.
Imports of oilseeds which genes are engineered to have antibiotics tolerance, a product of Hoechst Schering AgrEvo, Inc. were banned.
The European Union
Genetically engineered foods are required to be labeled, with many exceptions. The Environmental Committee of the EU Commission has requested that the European Union ban cultivation of genetically engineered foods (October 1998).
The Government has entirely banned genetically engineered foods.
Some 50 farm/environmental/consumer groups from across Latin America gathered in Ecuador in January, and announced their opposition to genetically engineered foods.
Only field tests are allowed. Brazilian consumer groups have brought legal actions against the cultivation of Monsanto's Roundup soybeans, and the labeling of genetically engineered foods and the differentiation of GMOs and non-GMOs have been mandated by the courts. The National Committee on Biotechnology Safety turned down an appeal by Hoechst Schering AgrEvo, Inc. seeking to plant corn that are genetically engineered to have herbicide tolerance. This is said to be a reflection of the increased sale of their non-GMO crops to Europe and Japan.
Australia, New Zealand
Since announcing that they do not plant genetically engineered crops, imports to Europe, where non-GMOs are preferred, have increased substantially, from 3-4,000 tons annually to 57,000 tons. In February this year, the Committee of Food Standards, that includes Australian and New Zealand Ministerial members, decided to label all genetically engineered foods of any kind.
Only one out of three kinds of genetically engineered oilseed is permitted for sale in the European Union. Canadian farmers, who do not differentiate these three kinds, have suffered plummeting profits as a result.
The United States
Following a May 1998 lawsuit, a group of NGOs led by the Center for Food Safety filed an appeal with the Federal Court of the District of Columbia demanding a ban on the cultivation and sale of genetically engineered Bt crops (Feburary 18, 1999).
Biosafety Protocol Meeting Ended in Failure
The Sixth Meeting of the Ad-hoc Working Group on Biosafety (BSWG6) and an Extraordinary Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biodiversity were held on 14-23 February 1999, at Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. Efforts by 170 countries to reach consensus on a Biosafety Protocol to the 1992 Biodiversity Convention were blocked by the GMO-crop-raising giants, the United Sates and Canada.
The conference drew representatives from more than 170 countries. The United States, which has signed the treaty, but not yet ratified it, participated as an observer.
Two main issues of the Biosafety Protocol -- 1. The obligation of exporting countries to inform importing countries of environmental risk assessments and specific characteristics of genetically engineered genetically engineered organisms; and, 2. the requirement of permission from importing countries when an exporting country wants to sell genetically engineered organisms -- were quickly agreed upon. However, the central argument was on another point: whether the term "genetically engineered organisms" includes crops and foods.
While "genetically engineered organisms" is defined to include seeds, it does not include crops or foods. This despite the fact that it is more reasonable to say "genetically engineered organisms" include crops and foods since often times seeds are contained in or attached to such products, and are likely to affect local ecosystems of importing nations. Also, crops themselves sometimes threaten human health and the environment. A British study reported that rats that ate toxins emitted from genetically engineered foods exhibited health problems.
While importing countries, including developing countries, European countries and Japan, insist on the regulation of genetically engineered crops, exporting countries, which are represented by the United States and Canada, counter that genetically engineered foods and crops are "substantially equivalent" to conventional foods and crops and, therefore, need not be regulated as "genetically engineered organisms."
They fear that if genetically engineered crops are included in the definition of GMOs, exporting nations will be required to separate entire harvests into GMOs and non-GMOs for export. This will push up costs, leading to higher crop prices and lowering international competitiveness.
Many NGOs lobbied at the conference. 48 NGOs, including JOF and Japan's Citizen Forum 2001, submitted an appeal to the conference, demanding a more vigorous safety assurance system, clearer responsibility for exporting countries, and thorough disclosure of information concerning GMOs.
U.S.A. and WTO
Since the United States succeeded in preventing the parties from reaching consensus on the draft protocol, who, then, will judge GMO-related trade problems? The U.S. claims the WTO will.
The United States takes the position that labeling genetically engineered foods is a type of trade barrier, thus preventing the sound function of free trade. The Government officially appealed to the WTO dispute panel last October, in response to a recent EU policy that requires labeling. Prior to the appeal, the United States expressed concern regarding the EU policy at the WTO conference last July.
Historically the WTO rules in favor of free trade ideals, ignoring effects on environment and human health. This is in line with the U.S. position, so they prefer GMO products be treated within the framework of the WTO.
Once a Biosafety Protocol is in place, the United States will not be able to justify using the WTO as it commonly does now. However, once the WTO rules in favor of the U.S appeal, many countries may follow the decision on GMO labeling, including Japan. At stake is who will be the winner first.
"Green Frontier Project" Starts: Japan's Bid for a GMO Giant
Oasamu Takamatsu, Organic Farming Researcher
In April, the Japanese Government began the "21st Century Green Frontier Project," one of the main projects Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) has begun under a "National Bio Strategy." The Project has a budget of about 1.5 billion yen appropriated for the first of seven years. This will lead Japanese farmers to be more dependent on bio-industries, and reverse the recent inclination of MAFF policies toward environmentally sound agricultural methods.
The project has three main goals:
1. To research rice genome, and obtain patents of specific genes that are useful for genetic engineering (Budget: 556 million yen).
2. To develop genetically engineered plants, and clone animals (Budget: 588 million yen).
3. To develop technologies that produce ingredients for medical purposes (Budget: 37 million yen).
One reason the Green Frontier Project was undertaken was MAFF fears concerning genetically engineered Koshihikari, the most popular strain of rice among Japanese, which is being researched in the United States. The concern is that Japanese rice farming will be jeopardized by U.S. rice exports if no research is done on rice genomes.
Another reason is the government hopes to boost the long-ailing economy by expanding the biotechnology market from a current 1 trillion yen to 25 trillion yen by 2025, and producing more employment. In order to do this, MAFF devised the Project in an effort to eliminate the nation's allergy to genetic engineering, assuming the research is successful.
However, MAFF's attempt to counter pressure from U.S. agricultural advancement simply by using the same tactics as the U.S. has adopted will not solve the problem we face now; rather, it will further weaken Japanese rice farming. Once genetically engineered rice farming prevails in Japan, dominated by "brand" genes that are usually patented by international seed companies, Japanese farmers' will become dependent on multinational corporations.
It is also wrong to fear genetically engineered U.S. Koshihikari so much. The taste of rice changes according to many factors, such as the ease with which it topples over and its tolerance to rice blight. This means simply growing high-yield rice using genetic engineering, as is currently being researched in the U.S., does not pose a great threat, as Japanese are particular about the taste of rice.
In addition, the idea of patenting crop genes, which are the common property of humankind, is ethically wrong. What the government should do is publicize the results of its research, rather than obtaining patents, and in this way eliminate the unethical profits seed companies are seeking.
In the 1960s and 70s, cereal yields in Third World countries soared due to the extensive use of fertilizers, pesticides and high-yield seeds. However, intensive use of soils led to soil degradation, and ecosystem disruption increased the hazards posed by insects and weeds. Traditional agriculture, which often fully incorporates the wisdom of regional characteristics, was destroyed, and self-sufficiency of Thirld World villages was lost, further impoverishing the poor. It was not until recently that world scientists recognized the failure of this so-called "Green Revolution."
The "Green Frontier Project" will accelerate the path to collapse of Japanese agriculture, as the Green Revolution has for the people in Third World nations over the past half century. Instead, the government should encourage organic agriculture, the only way to protect regional food security.
"Genetically Engineered" ORGANIC TOFU??
There has been a big debate whether genetically engineered foods can be called "organic." True, genetically engineered foods do not necessarily require the input of "non-organic" materials, but most major organic certifiers commonly exclude GMOs from their definition of organic products. Also, major codes that define organic foods exclude GMOs from their definitions, as in the United States and in the Codex Alimentarius. However, it is another question whether products that are labeled "organic" contain genetically engineered foods or not.
JOF tested ten types of tofu, three regular brands of tofu, two that state "This product does not contain genetically engineered soybean," and five "organic" brands of tofu, to see whether genetically engineered soybeans are used in tofu. We found two of the five types of tofu labeled "organic" contained genetically engineered soybeans.
Test sensitivity was 5% presence, that is, genetically engineered soybeans are detected if the tofu contains more than one genetically engineered soybean per twenty soybeans.
The genetically engineered soybeans that were detected in the tested tofu, had herbicide tolerance. However, it is not known if they were grown with herbicides or mixed with other soybeans after harvest. If herbicides were used, the label "organic" is deceptive.
The more important question is where the mixing took place. If the two companies knew that they were using genetically engineered soybeans, the mixing is their responsibility. If not, they were the victims of mixing that took place elsewhere.
Judging from the evidence, the responsibility likely lies with the tofu makers. According to the makers of the two brands of tofu, Purasupa Foods and Asahi Food Industry, Inc., they use organic soybeans that are imported from the United States, and certified by a major American organic certification group, OCIA. The group's policy excludes genetically engineered crops from their definition of "organic;" however, we could not detect genetically engineered soybeans in three brands of tofu that claim to use 100% organically grown soybeans certified by OCIA.
Furthermore, the two companies responses to our written inquiries, almost admitted fault. Asahi Food Industry, Inc. said, "There is a possibility that genetically engineered soybeans can be mixed with organically grown ones in the manufacturing process." Parasupa Foods said, "Genetically engineered soybeans could be mixed with organic ones when we used uncertified organic soybeans bought from Ohkura Agri, Inc. last November."
In the United States it may be difficult to isolate genetically engineered crops from those which are not because genetically engineered seeds are so widely used. As a result, the same may be true in Japan, the biggest importer of soybeans from the U.S. But it is certain that the genetically engineered soybeans arrived at Japanese tofu factories through fraudulent or careless activities.
The rumor heard from organic farming activists, that some organic tofu makers do not care if genetically engineered soybeans are mixed with organic ones in their manufacturing process, turns out to be true.
Even without specific research or expertise, we know that it is impossible for there to be so many brands of organic tofu or brands at such a cheap price on the market that use only domestically grown soybeans. In the absence of effective regulations that prevent companies from making false statements on their products, or isolate genetically engineered foods before they reach processing factories, it is difficult to choose safe products.
People in developed countries tend to believe that domestically produced crops are safer than those that are grown outside their own country. However, two reports recently published in the United States, "Do you know what you're eating?" and "How `Bout Them Apples?," authored by the Consumers Union of the United States, and the Environmental Working Group respectively, have shocked Americans by revealing that U.S crops are usually more contaminated with chemicals than imported ones.
The Consumers Union has developed a toxicity index to see how much of various chemicals remain on crops and how toxic they are. Among the most contaminated are fresh peaches, frozen and fresh winter squash, apples, grapes and spinach.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) incorporated food toxicity with estimates on the frequency of consumption. They found out that apples pose the greatest threat to the health of American consumers, especially to children, followed by spinach, peaches, pears and strawberries. They estimated that 600,000 children between the age of one and five are exposed to Organo-phosphate insecticides (OPs) at levels exceeding Government safety standards.
In both studies it is evident that moderate residues of highly toxic chemicals, notably methyl parathion, push up the total toxicity of U.S. crops a great deal. EWG has a campaign underway to eliminate the use of methyl parathion on U.S. farms. The use of methyl parathion was banned in Japan in 1971. Despite the a recent surge in concerns over the safety of crops grown in the United States, the WTO ruled in favor of the U.S. on a demand that Japan open its apple market. While fears among Japanese farmers and consumers have spread, there has been no relevant government action taken.
Last September through November, Green Co-op, a Western Japan-based Consumers Cooperative Union, found that tap water contains two endocrine disruptors, Bisphenol A, and Nonylphenol. Green Co-op tested tap water at thirteen places in Western Japan and found that nine samples contained Bisphenol A and two contained Nonylphenol. Although the detected levels were low, the fact that endocrine disruptors exist in our daily drinking water is of great concern. In response to numerous inquiries by subscribers to Safety of Our Foods and Life, we examined how much water purifiers can remove contaminants from tap water.
The largest contaminant in tap water is chlorine. Most water purifiers effectively remove chlorine. If you continuously use chlorine-free water, dry skin problems may clear up.
Trihalomethane is an unwanted carcinogenic byproduct that results when water purification plants add chlorine to water. It is the largest carcinogen that exists in our home.
Initially, water purifiers remove 90% of trihalomethane. However, the capacity of the active carbon contained in water purifiers to absorb trihalomethane declines much more quickly than for chlorine. Makers of water purifiers usually only consider a filter's capacity to absorb chlorine when they label the duration of the cartridge. Thus it is best to change the cartridge before trihalomethane starts being released into our drinking water.
The largest amount of trihalomethane is inhaled in bathrooms. When water emits a gaseous form of trihalomethane, it is absorbed into the human body by respiration and stays in the lungs, where it does not decomposed. If you want to enjoy safe baths, have good ventilation and use active carbons to remove trihalomethane.
EDs found in Western Japan can also be absorbed in active carbons. Choose purifiers that use larger amounts of active carbon of good quality.
Cripto-Strongium is a protozoan that poisoned 400,000 people and killed 400 AIDS patients in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (U.S.) in 1993. Since Cripto-Strongium can survive chlorinated water, it may be found in tap water. It was first identified in Japan in 1996 when it caused a mass infection. The protozoan can be removed easily; it can be filtered out using a purifier or killed by heating.
Just as organic foods are certified as "organic" by third parties to prove that the products are grown without any input of chemicals, certified "organic" timbers are emerging in developed countries, except in Japan. Certified timber produced in an environmentally sound manner is becoming an effective way to raise awareness among consumers and check further deforestation. In addition, certification discourages the use of harmful chemicals in wood processing.
As bogus organic foods are often found in supermarkets, fraudulent eco-labels on wood and wood products are also prevalent. In Japan, "Earth-friendly charcoal" were found to be made from mangrove timber in South East Asia. Many "organic," "safe," and "healthy" woods and wood products are processed with synthetic chemicals. To prevent timber companies and processors from making false claims and to promote the use of timber that is produced with proper forest management, organic timber certification was devised in Western countries.
Certifiers usually certify timber, processed timber, and forests themselves as "organic." Where the boundary between "organic forests" and "organic foods" are uncertain, such as mushrooms and nuts, IFOAM and FSC are discussing to which these products belong.
More than 1,000 brands of organic timber are already on the market; but unfortunately, no organic timber is available in Japan. However, partial efforts have begun at the Forestry Agency and in some locales in an effort to stimulant the debt-laden forest industry. As the worlds' biggest tropical timber importer, Japan should act now to start organic timber certification.
We know that water is an important component in our body. It is account for 60% of our weight. But most people don't know that water is one of the six essential nutrients. If we lack in water, increased density of blood streams exhaust hearts. Also, water plays a role as a regulator of body temperature. However, although consumption of water is vital to our health, its proper consumption is increasingly difficult.
On average, we consume 2 liter of water a day, half of which coming from drinking water. However, many people ignore the fact that additional 200g of water is decomposed from sugar, fat and protein in the body, when they are metabolized into CO2 and water. 100g of sugar, fat and protein produce 55, 110, and 40g of water, respectively. Fat has the highest efficiency to produce water; this explains why a camel's humps are filled with fat. This also shows that more water is contained in men's body than women's whose body contains more fat. So simply taking water is not enough to maintain a good health.
Thirsty reaches the highest after we play sports. We often quench our thirsty by sport drinks, which are supplemented with specific nutrients such as vitamin C. However, sport drinks may not be the best way to take water into your body. After playing a hard sport, we need to supplement a lot of energy to the body. However, sport drinks usually contain less than two thirds of energy than regular soft drinks. Also, added nutrients in sport drinks may harm your health if you continuously consume it without proper nutrient management. Therefore, it is necessary to maintain balanced diet in addition to resorting to such products.
It has become a common practice to purchase mineral water or water purifier to consume tasty, contaminants-free water. However, each option has its own fault.
Mineral water, supplies body with a lot of minerals and usually taste better than regular tap water in city area. However, 40% of mineral water made in Japan and some imported ones contained Trihalomethane. Also, some brands of mineral water contain aluminum, which is said to cause Alzheimer's disease.
Water purifier is a useful tool to ease our water drinking habit. It eliminate unpleasant smells of tap water, and eliminate toxic chemicals, such as trihalomethane and chlorine. However, we need to be careful not to let the purifier become a breeding ground of germs. To avoid it, we need to exchange cartridge frequently. But before you consider purchasing a water purifier, you should find out if your water is coming from surface water or groundwater. Usually groundwater is not contaminated, and you don't need water purifier.
In conclusion, before we resort to sport drinks mineral water, or water purifier to consume adequate amount of water, it is wiser to improve tap water by ourselves. To remove trihalomethane, pump water into a container and (1) leave it for one night, or (2) boil it for more than 5 minutes, or (3) drop active carbons in it.
By boiling water, Cryptosporidium can also be removed. Storing water in a cool place and bringing water temperature down to 10 C will improve the taste of water.
In the long term, we need to make more formal efforts, to clean our surface and ground water. Public objection toward dam construction should be enhanced, since dams have greatly contributed degraded quality of water. Also, we need to conserve more water. The more people use water, the worse the water quality is, because human activities increase chlorine contents in water. The chlorine level of the Tone River (Japan) tells that 60% of water is used by humans at least once before the water reach estuary. Thus, individual efforts to clean, tasty water should also not be ignored for our healthy intake of water.
"I know that I don't want nuclear energy, but I don't know how to convince other people." If you are in search of convincing evidence to prove that promoting nuclear power is not a good option, professor Atsushi Tsuchida can give you plenty.
Reason 1:Energy generation by nuclear power plants consumes as much oils as thermal power generation.
Anti-nuclear sentiment has been somewhat weakened as global climate change has begun to attract public attention. Major media strategies by governments and power generation companies have succeeded in affecting public opinion. They have made the public think that we need nuclear technology because it emits less CO2 than oil-thermal, and still generates a huge amount of energy, enabling us to maintain current living standards. However, nuclear energy consumes no less oil than thermal and other technologies.
Nuclear power generation requires construction of long distance power lines, water pumps, and generation plants that consume a huge quantity of oils. Since radioactive materials are harmful to human health, they need to be handled with special care, thus requiring a lot of material inputs.
Also, accident cleanup activities at nuclear power plants and at radioactive waste sites require oil as well.
Thus, taking into account the oil used in the construction of nuclear power plants, for maintenance, and for demolition of the plants, the total is as much oil as is used for thermal energy production.
Reason 2: There is a high possibility of accidents.
All Pressurized Water Reactors (PWR) are imperfect, lacking hydrographs that tell operators how much water is in the reactor core. In the 1979 Three Mile Island accident, operators wrongly assumed that there was plenty of water in the reactor core, and they turned off the Emergency Core Cooling System (ECCS). This led to a meltdown in the reactor core, causing a bigger accident. If the core were equipped with a hydrograph, the accident would have been prevented. However, none of the world's PWRs currently in operation are equipped with hydrographs.
Reason 3: Cleanup of radioactive wastes costs time and money.
The highest levels of radioactivity registered in the entire nuclear power-generation process are found in spent fuels. A nuclear power plant produces 30-40 tons of spent fuel per year.
Fuel reprocessing does not decrease the level of radioactivity. It is simply a procedure to separate and isolate plutonium from spent fuel. When plutonium is isolated, highly radioactive liquid is produced (high level liquid waste). The radioactivity of the liquid waste remains lethal for thousands of years. The liquid wastes are usually solidified by vitrification and other means, and are stored in radioactive waste sites. Storage of radioactive wastes requires continuous maintenance, as the process of solidifying waste materials does not contain the radioactivity more than a thousand year, and thus accidents are possible if the waste is not properly managed. We should not expect future generations to spend their time and money dealing with the waste of today's energy generation. Also, it is improbable that the fossil fuels that will be needed to maintain radioactive waste sites will still be available a thousand years from now.
Reason 4: Nuclear power plants are the excellent targets for military attacks.
Nuclear power plants can be more destructive than nuclear missiles. If attacked, a nuclear power reactor would emit a greater amount of radioactivity than nuclear missiles do. Reactors usually contain much more radioactivity than missiles, and the radioactive fallout from a bombed reactor will remain much longer than the radioactivity from missiles, which in exploding destroy much of their radioactivity (this is why radioactivity in Hiroshima and Nagasaki disappeared much sooner than scientists initially estimated). Thus, nuclear power plants pose a by far greater threat to a country's security than an enemy's nuclear missile development.
The conventional anti-nuclear movement may have failed to gain public consensus. Countering nuclear technology by promoting natural power generation, such as wind and solar sources, is difficult due to higher costs and present inefficiency. However, we can clearly say nuclear energy is unacceptable for the following reasons: its massive consumption of oil, high possibility of accidents, unfair burden on future generations, and security concerns. North Korea has developed technology that enables them to launch medium range ballistic missiles, which can hit nuclear power plants in Japan. Germany suspended its development of nuclear technology partly due to security concern. Growing evidence suggests that we need to act immediately to stop this technology.
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