Newsletter -SAFETY OF OUR FOODS AND LIFE-
Japan Offspring Fund (JOF) Monthly Newsletter
1999, October, No.126
Major grain producer, Cargill, starts segregating produceLabeling requirements for GM foods, which the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) adopted on August 10, will take effect in April 2001. Despite a two-year moratorium before implementation, famous Miso (bean paste) maker Hanamaruki and Natto (fermented soybean) maker Fujikko have already begun broadcasting TV advertisements claiming, "We don't use GM soybeans in our products." Hanamaruki is also using newspaper advertisements to publicize its rejection of GM ingredients. Given this change among Japanese food companies toward non-GM crops, Cargill, the world largest grain producer has started promoting the segregation of GM and non-GM crops.
In the U.S., it is not easy to secure non-GM crops this year since GM crops have already been widely processed. As a result, severe battles have occurred among distributors trying to get hold of limited supplies of non-GM crops. This is the first time in history that several types of crops have been refused by the market simultaneously, and the phenomenon continues to spread. Consumers are taking the environment into account and saying "No" to the unknown risks GM crops pose. As a result, the food industry and markets are also rejecting GM produce.
How to participate in making history
This issue's Special Feature will help you experience this historical event. The first part explains how to replace your foods with non-GM foods. If each individual tries to make his or her diet safer, the shift to non-GM foods in the business sector will further accelerate. The second part explains the approaches of various business sectors, such as the food industry, trading companies, grain producers and inspection organizations. Understanding the procedures and approaches of these sectors, readers will be better able to enjoy following this historical shift on TV and in the press. In the final section we take a look at Monsanto Co., which is facing an increasingly difficult business environment. The last section also covers recent JOF activities and a recent report on an OECD meeting where a heated debate unfolded between the U.S. and the EU.
How to avoid GM foods
Although GM crops have been rejected by consumers, imported agricultural products still contain GM ingredients as shown in Table 1. Unless consumers avoid these products, GM foods producers remain ready to stock store shelves with these products, causing a new round of anxiety. Here we take a closer look at easy ways to avoid these foods.
Avoid what is easy
We can easily avoid most GM foods, though we cannot avoid them completely. In fact, no one knows to what degree highly-processed GM products should be avoided. Take a look at Vitamin C. First starch is made from corn, and enzymes are added to the starch, which turns it to glucose. After further processing, Vitamin C is produced. Corn and enzymes can be genetically engineered; however, the final product, Vitamin C, does not have any trace of protein or of genetically engineered DNA, and therefore it is nearly impossible to prove the Vitamin C has been engineered. Given this fact, it is not worth getting overly concerned about these products. Instead, let's avoid foods that we can keep away from practically.
The way to avoid GM products before labeling takes effect
The Japanese labeling requirement covers 30 types of GM food products. The importation of many GM crops, such as fresh potatoes, is prohibited: these crops cannot be sold in the Japanese market. Besides these, select products with labels such as, "organic non-pesticide," "domestic," and "GM-free soy beans." This principle should be applied to highly processed foods as well.
<Natto: fermented soybeans>Most natto is made from Chinese soybeans, so natto too rarely contains GM soybeans.
<Cornstarch>Change to starch made from domestic potatoes.
<Corn snacks>select products with "non-GM" labeling; these will appear shortly on the market here.
Select correct products even with no labeling
Products exempt from labeling requirements, such as soy sauce, vegetable oil, corn flakes, potato products, and margarine can be also be easily avoided as well.
<Soy sauce>Choose Nisshin Food's, "using organically-grown corn -- 'Grain principle.'"
<Potato products> Choose those made from domestic potatoes. Since fresh potatoes cannot be imported into Japan, sliced potato chips are made from domestic produce. Most types of croquettes, including frozen ones, are made from domestic potatoes.
<Eggs and Meat> Almost 99% of stock feed is imported, therefore, it is difficult to avoid non-GM feed. Nevertheless, some farms use only domestic feed, for instance, two farms introduced in the JOF last newsletter:
* Uozumi Farm (tel & fax: +81-299-43-6826) One set of eggs and vegetables is about 5000 Japanese yen. A chicken is 1200 yen (delivery charge is not included).
*Masumi chicken farm (tel & fax: +81-859-72-0655) One set of 50 eggs is about 5000 yen (delivery charge included).
Quick reactions by large, chain grocery stores
- Nihon Seifun (milling) announced the sales of non-GM corn (corn grit) from this October and flour for tempura within this year. These prices are expected to be higher than general products ( Nikkei newspaper, Aug. 13).
Labeling on products exempted from the requirement
Kirin announced that cornstarch, an ingredient of Kirin beer, will be shifted to non-GM by 2001. Sapporo also announced a similar plan. Asahi and Suntory are investigating their own countermeasures (Nikkei, Tokyo and other newspapers, August 24, 25).
Signs of volunteer labeling among restaurants
* A chain restaurant, Jonathan, plans to label menus marking those items that are made using non-GM materials. Its subsidiaries, Skylark and Aiya also have the same plan (Nihon Nogyo newspaper, August 21).
* Skylark, a family restaurant chain, will label "non-GM soybeans used" entrees on its menu from as early as this November (Mainichi newspaper, Sep.12).
A rush of requests to inspection organizations
The Center of gene analysis (Shiga prefecture) has received a rush of requests, three times as many as last year. One of the largest inspection organizations, Genetic ID, opened its analysis center (Yokohama City) in October, a half year earlier than its original plan. In the U.S., requests for inspections have greatly increased for products destined for the Japanese market (Tokyo newspaper, Aug. 18).
Problem corporations also take quick responses
* Nisshin Seiyu (oil manufacturer) decided to change to non-GM soybeans in sales to Tofu manufacturers from this December; however, its main soy oil ingredients will remain the same.
* Nisshin Shokuhin has announced a shift to non-GM ingredients, such as fried bean curd and Miso soup, in cups of instant noodles from September 2000.
Trading companies had expected the adoption of labeling requirements
* The Association of Kanto soybean wholesales will buy non-GM soy from the U.S. from this fall. It had a deal with trading companies for two hundreds tons of such soy per month from this November at the earliest (Nikkei newspaper, August 18).
* Itochu trading company will switch to non-GM for most all of its imported soy to be used in food products from this October (Nikkei newspaper, Sep. 7).
Certification by third-party organizations is likely to increase
* The Japanese Association of Oil Certification will start inspecting and certifying mixtures of GM ingredients, such as soybeans, from this fall. * Nissho Iwai will start business on a consignment basis with inspection companies. * Mitsubishi trading will establish a certification company with Takara Shuzo (distilling) (Nikkei newspaper, August 27).
Reluctant bureaucrats finally begin to take action
* The Ministry of Health and Welfare will start sampling inspections of imported soy, corn and rapeseed in five harbor-quarantine stations, such as Tokyo and Yokohama, from this fall (Nikkei newspaper, August 4).
Strong influence on the U.S
* National associations related to agriculture have asked farmers to choose non-GM corn for the next planting season. * Manufacturers of baby foods and pet foods which use only non-GM ingredients have increased, which in turn has lowered the price of GM crops (Kyodo news, Aug. 29, Nikkei, Sep. 16). * A major grain distributor, ADM, warmed farmers and grain suppliers to segregate ordinary crops from GM ones (Kyodo news, Sep. 2, Nikkei, Sep. 16). * A U.S. agribusiness giant, Cargill, the largest grain trading company, will reexamine its collection measures and plans to strengthen its segregation system (Nikkei, Sep. 16).
How victory has been achieved
In May 1998, the EU put labeling requirement into effect. Since then, the brakes have been put on the rapid growth of GM foods. Food companies stopped using GM crops and retailers also avoided them. Accordingly, almost all GM-food products disappeared from the EU market.
A paper in the British science magazine "Nature" in May accelerated the international campaign against GM foods. The magazine reported the negative impacts of GM crops on the environment. Since then, procedures for permitting new GM crops have been temporary frozen in many parts of the world.
As a result of these circumstances, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture attempted to speak positively--though with great deliberation--about labeling GM foods with higher nutritional value, allowing these GM crops to be sold at higher prices than traditional crops. He also touched on segregation as a means to sell non-GM crops at higher prices. In short, the U.S. tried to encourage selling GM crops with high nutritional value at a higher price, other types of GM crops at the same price as before, and non-GM crops at a slightly higher price. This strategy was a poorly disguised attempt to bolster agricultural earning by increasing prices on all crops, both GM and non-GM.
Then, this August, Japan's MAFF adopted labeling requirements for three types of crops, covering 7 varieties, 30 food products. In contrast, labeling requirements in the EU apply to only two types of crops. Japanese labeling requirements became stricter than those in the EU, and Japan imports more crops from abroad. Therefore, it was easy to imagine that the new Japanese requirements would have a great impact internationally. However, the change so far has been far beyond anyone's expectations. Now, the exclusion of GM foods is no longer a dream.
Stock price down
In spite of good sales of pesticides for GM crops and in its pharmaceutical business, Monsanto's stock price has fallen 11% in the past six months. During the same period, there was an 18% decline in the stock price of a recent Monsanto acquisition, the company that produces "terminator seeds." As demand for GM crops has plummeted and dark clouds have gathered over future sales, stock traders are avoiding purchasing Monsanto stock.
A hope: GM crops
Monsanto is a U.S. biotech company, which developed and sold pesticides containing the notorious chemical, PCB, sales of which have been prohibited in many countries. Monsanto hoped that the development and sale of GM crops, which the company expected to be highly productive and environmentally friendly, would help erase its negative image.
Within 4 years in the U.S., 55% of the area under cultivation for soybeans was planted with Roundup-resistant soybeans. Sales of GM seeds, technical fees added to GM seeds, and sales of the pesticide Roundup seemed a revolutionary success. Mergers of seed companies and aggressive marketing increased internationally, resulting in GM crops being planted in increasing numbers all over the world until 1999.
Resistance from consumers changed Monsanto's fate
Monsanto, which seemed to be dominating the world market for GM crops, faced difficulties in Europe first. Beginning with consumer boycotts, food manufacturers and grain merchants began avoiding purchases of GM crops since the implementation of GM food labeling in May 1999. The procedure for permission to plant new GM crops was frozen. As a result, Monsanto cannot introduce its new variety of GM seeds to the EU market. Although Monsanto expected Brazil to be a good customer, a federal court judged ruled that Monsanto should carry out an environment impact assessment before selling its GM seeds. As a practical matter, Monsanto will not be able to sell these seeds in time for the next planting season. In addition to Japan, movements against GM crops have been spreading to other Asian countries, including India, South Korea and the Philippines.
Criticism against GM crops gets stronger in the U.S.
In the U.S. , where GM crops have been widely accepted, voices against GM crops and requests for labeling of GM foods have finally begun to increase. Being sensitive to consumers' needs, big merchants and Japanese trading companies have started placing premiums on non-GM crops and encouraging farmers to segregate non-GM crops from GM ones. The prices of GM crops have become relatively lower and buyers are hesitating to purchase them. Monsanto's business outlook may worsen even further next year, as sales of GM seeds are likely to decline.
Labeling will be required for 30 types of food products due to the new labeling requirements. Therefore, JOF has been working on companies that sell products exempted from the labeling requirements by advocating consumers' opinions.
JOF shares consumers' opinions with all business sectors, in particular seven baby food companies which are exempt from the labeling requirements. We also research the companies' current plans by sending them questionnaires.
JOF has requested that Japanese agricultural cooperative associations declare a five-year moratorium on the plantation of GM crops. As for baby foods, the Japan Association of baby foods has agreed to switch to non-GM ingredients. We will soon receive a list of baby food products that contain GM ingredient. This baby food industry would be the earliest to switch to non-GM ingredient.
An effective measure---JOF video
Our comment supporting the MAFF labeling requirement was only picked up by one newspaper; however, our video about genetically engineered foods, especially a scene showing an insect dying after eating a GM potato leave was widely used by the mass media. After we released its copyright, more than 10 TV programs put it in on air.
Even in one discussion dominated by supporters of GM crops, the video clip made their discussion appear to be an exercise in making exuses for the use of GM crops. This visual measure makes audience understand the potential and unknown risks of GM crops. The video was used in Taiwan more than 10 minutes in total and CNBC's Asian coverage broadcasted the comments of our staff. JOF has been active in international field as well. Ms. Kumasawa, a JOF staff member, attend the OECD meeting and took part in high-level discussions. The next issue will report details of that meeting.
Recently, a JOF staff member was an official participant in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) meeting on genetically modified foods. At the meeting, held in Paris from September 15, Mr. Tim Lobstein of Food Commission UK and Ms. Kumasawa of Japan Offspring Fund spoke out in favor of labeling all GM foods, as well as called for the abolition of the concept of "substantial equivalence," which was proposed by the OECD itself.
JOF has gained more international power to speak out. IACFO*, of which JOF is a member, was invited to participate by the OECD. The OECD wields considerable influence in world politics and economics. Our staff took part in the first meeting of the "Task Force for the safety of Novel Foods and Feed" for three days in September. IACFO is the first consumer group allowed to attend and participate in official talks. Following the meeting, JOF was contacted by a Japanese OECD staff member who praised the first participation of a Japanese NGO.
* The International Association of Consumer Food Organizations, founded in 1997, consists of three organizations, JOF, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (U.S.), and the Food Commission (U.K).
Insist on the abolition of "substantial equivalence"
The OECD brings together 29 countries, including European countries, the U.S., Canada and Japan to exchange information and opinions and cooperation on policies. OECD proposed the concept of "substantial equivalence," which would weaken safety evaluation regulations. Substantial equivalence takes the position that a new product is safe as long as the product has the same nutrients, and no toxic substances have been added. Therefore, GM corn is judged as substantially equivalent---therefore safe---unless GM corn has less nutritional value and Bt toxin is toxic to human beings. As shown in the JOF video, insects die from eating GM crops, while no insects die from eating ordinary crops. The OECD concept, however, would assume that both potatoes are the same, and thus "safe."
JOF insisted on the abolition of this concept. When Ms. Kumasawa stated the JOF position, citing the example of the Bt potato, representatives from EU countries nodded in assent. A representative from Austria came up later to shake her hand and personally praise her comment.
The OECD keeps away from labeling GM foods
At the OECD meeting, JOF called for comprehensive labeling of GM foods as a consumer right. The report of this meeting will be distributed to representatives by the next G8 Summit to be held next year from July 21 in Okinawa, Japan. Due to the time limitations at this meeting, Discussion of labeling standards were left to Codex the task of GM labeling.
There is a huge gap between the U.S. and Canada on one side, which insist that safety of GM foods is guaranteed, and European countries on the other side, which seek to evaluate the safety and impact on the environment of GM foods, based on the principle of precaution and prevention. JOF will continue to keep an eye on the international arena, including WTO, and keep reporting to consumers.
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