NOTE: Thank you to Akiko Frid for forwarding this report on how citizens are responding to the GM contamination problem in Japan.
Wild-growing GM canola continues to spread in Japan
The non-GM association Aichi Japan conducts regular actions by citizens concerned about imported genetically modified canola [oilseed rape] threatening local biodiversity and food safety. The most recent one was the 12th in the series and it was conducted on the 18th November 2012.
Monsanto's Roundup Ready GM canola and Bayer's Liberty Link GM canola were found growing by the roadside between Yokkaichi port and Matsusaka city in Mie Prefecture, Japan. 44 citizens gathered together and walked along more than 15 kms in order to clean up the unwanted GM canola.
The association members together with concerned consumers, processors of agricultural products and farmers have been doing these clean up operations and finding Canadian GM canola plants growing wild again and again since they first started in 2004. The association has undertaken this activity regularly since 2006.
According to Mr Ishikawa, who is one of the core members of the Non-GM association Aichi, the amount of Liberty Link GM canola has been increasing in recent years. He has been hearing that Canadian farmers use Liberty Link GM canola seeds that are tolerant to a weedkiller Basta (glufosinate) more than Roundup (glyphosate) tolerant one. There have been growing problems in North American farm fields where the wild weed populations becoming tolerant to commonly used chemicals like Roundup.
The 44 citizens carefully pulled up 197 plants from the ground and they tested 101 plants. The test kits are rather expensive for the local citizens group, therefore they did not test all the plants they collected. There were a few plants that were not Canadian canola plants, but which were wild relatives, that tested positive for GMO.
The association usually sends some of the GMO positive samples to be PCR tested [for DNA analysis] in order to double check the result from the simple strip test. They also check a few GMO negative samples by the PCR, since they have been noticing there are some plants with "hidden GMOs". Those are the ones that the test strip would not recognise any GMO proteins, but the PCR test result can be GMO positive. They have found Canadian canola plants with "hidden GMOs" as well as among some wild relatives a few times. The PCR test is very expensive for a local citizens group, so the amont of the samples they can test is very limited.
Japan is the biggest importer of canola seeds in the world, and most of the canola seeds are imported from Canada where GM canola varieties have been cultivated since 1995. The rest is imported from Australia. Bloomberg wrote in October 2012 that Japan's canola imports will probably climb to 2.4 million metric tons in 2012, surpassing the 2.3 million-ton record set in 2010 (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-10-25/rapeseed-imports-by-japan-set-for-record-on-substitution-for-soy.html ).
Japanese food companies that have been trying to avoid using GM canola for food production were choosing the Australian canola, however since some areas in Australia started GM canola cultivation, the issue of wild-growing GM canola there also became a reality (http://ccwa.org.au/content/fugitive-gm-canola-study ). Japanese consumers who want to avoid GMO canola are choosing domestic oilseed rape oil, however domestic production of oilseed rape is fairly small. The same is true for domestic soybeans.
Consumers in Japan were among the very first citizens in the world to clearly say No to GMOs as far back as 1996. The government of Japan introduced its GMO food labeling law in 2001, but the law is well-known among the consumers as rather useless since there are many exceptions so the food companies basically do not need to label anything. Consumers are demanding better labelling from the government so that concerned consumers and farmers will be able to avoid buying GMO derived crops and products.
The non-GM association Aichi Japan will continue to conduct regular GM canola clean up operations. Mr Ishikawa who has been participating in these operations since 2004 says that their efforts have been effective in slowing down the further spread of contamination. However, it is necessary to continue this process, otherwise the GM canola will spread faster and wider and contaminate the wild relatives and food crops.
GM canola is growing a lot along national highway no. 23 in Mie Prefecture, where a lot of cars and big trucks pass by, so the citizens who participate in this clean up have to be very careful. The association prepares information materials as well as a guidebook on participating in the activities with pictures of GM canola, Japanese oilseed rape, and wild relatives. They form different groups for the divided up areas and each group has experienced people who are good at finding the plants.
Citizens who participate in the activities cover their own travel costs. The association covers the cost of insurance (since the activity is done by busy roads), the test kits and the materials. In recent years, a concerned [food] oil company that is importing GM canola into the area is cooperating with the citizens in order to clean up the GM canola.
The main issue is that the government has not taking any fundamental measures to minimize and eliminate this problem, especially the issue of the transport of GM seeds. We will continues to act on this issue since it is related to our food security and our food culture, says Mr Ishikawa.
Consumers Union of Japan (http://www.nishoren.org/en/?s=COP+MOP) together with many active citizens' organizations are now preparing for the 7th meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which will be held in the Republic of Korea in October 2014 (http://bch.cbd.int/protocol/#tab=2). There still are several unsolved issues regarding the transboundary movement of Living Modified Organisms (LMOs).
Transportation of GM seeds are making problems even in countries where no such seeds are used or imported. Switzerland has a moratorium against the commercial use of GM crops and GM animals until 2017 since 2005 (http://www.infogm.org/spip.php?article5300 ). However, wild-growing GM canola was found next to the railway tracks (http://gmwatch.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=14182 ). In Japan, the GM canola seeds fall from transport trucks, and in Switzerland, the GM canola seeds fall from goods trains passing through the country.
The Non-GM association Aichi Japan welcomes ideas and opinions on eliminating this problem. The association continues to have dialogues with [food] oil companies, local government, as well as the national government, together with people who care about foods and agriculture in all over Japan.
For further information and details of the GM canola cleaning up activities, please visit Non-GM association Aichi: http://www.kit.hi-ho.ne.jp/sa-to/index.htm
This report was written by Akiko Frid who participated in the GM canola clean up operation in November 2012 as a concerned citizen.