Media Global Economy 2018.11.30
Several years ago, Japan's public opinion had been split in two over the participation in negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). People against the participation mostly argued that the US, which led the TPP negotiations, would shred and change for the worse what Japan had long protected, such as food safety, medical care system, agriculture and public works. And, many people who felt threatened by the US believed this argument.
Now that the TPP agreement has been concluded, it is obvious that most of these arguments had been groundless "TPP ghosts."
Due to confidentiality during negotiations, the Japanese government could only state that "such a situation would probably not occur" against the arguments, but after details of the TPP agreements were finalized and announced, the government refuted the arguments with confidence. Critics and university professors, who were no experts on trade issues, public policies and economic systems and had given groundless fake views, have now hidden themselves somewhere.
Above all, the US, which they felt threatened by, has withdrawn from the TPP out of fear that the TPP would lead to employment loss in the US. The US has gotten the sickness of "scared of the TPP and Japan."
Regulations on genetically modified (GM) foods had been one aspect of such sickness.
Critics and university professors advocated that the US would force Japan to change its regulations on GM food and eat foods that are not safe, which most people of consumer groups also believed.
Having had the experience of negotiating with the US over regulations on GM foods, I had denied that such a situation would ever occur, but it had no effect. I even felt emptiness wondering why many people believe fake news created by people who are not experts and have no knowledge on food safety regulations.
I would like to take a little time and refer to the sentences I wrote to the general readers during controversies over participation in the TPP (slight addition made to pages 234-237 of "TPP Will Make Japanese Agriculture Strong" by Kazuhito Yamashita, Nikkei Publishing Inc. 2016 (first edition 2012)).
In other words, at the time, the US, which did not require any mandatory labeling for GM foods that are virtually as safe and functional as their original foods or agricultural products (claim of "substantial equivalence"), and the EU, which required mandatory labeling for all GMOs and foods processed from GMOs (if they contain GMOs in the amount more than 0.9%), were at extremes regarding GM food labeling regulations.
Japan's position was in between the US and the EU. Taking soybeans for example, mandatory labeling is required for natto and tofu in which genetically modified DNA or proteins can be detected, while labeling is not required for oil and soy sauce in which genetically modified DNA or proteins cannot be detected due to high-level processing (While foods that include no more than 5% of GMOs by weight have not been subject to mandatory labeling, this year regulations are proposed to be tightened towards requiring mandatory labeling for all foods in which genetically modified DNA or proteins can be detected (in the slightest amount). The scope of foods subject to mandatory labeling has been enlarged, and regulations have become stricter than those of the EU in some respects.)
However, in 2016 the US enacted a law requiring labeling for GM foods (commonly called the "Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law") reflecting grassroots movement demanding labeling in Vermont and other states, and the law was signed by President Obama in July of the same year. Pursuant to this law, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is currently considering what kind of foods require labeling based on over 14,000 public comments received and expresses hope to finalize its decision by December 1.
The first thing worth noting is that the law does not use the word genetically modified organism (GMO) but instead uses the word "bioengineered food" which seems to have a broader meaning. "Bioengineered food" is defined as a food "(1) that contains genetic material that has been modified through in vitro recombinant DNA techniques; and (2) for which the modification could not otherwise be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature." In other words, bioengineered food not only includes the existing GMOs and GM foods, but also may formally include food produced using genome editing. The key point would be whether "genetic material that has been modified" exists or not.
Currently, the USDA proposes the following three options for exemption of mandatory labeling.
Here, it is assumed that bioengineered substance exists. Unlike the EU, which requires labeling also for soy sauce and oil that do not contain bioengineered substance, USDA identifies these products to be exempted from regulations as Japan has. In other words, US regulations on GM foods is about to become almost the same as that of Japan. The opposite situation of what anti-TPP advocates, affected by the sickness of "scared of the US," had argued is currently underway in the US.
In my next report, I wish to write about foods produced using genome editing that will likely come next after GM foods.