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43% of Japanese 'don't want to eat' genome-edited farm produce: Univ. of Tokyo poll

In this Oct. 31, 2017 file photo, Japan's first-ever crop of experimental genome-edited rice is seen being harvested in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture. (Mainichi/Ai Oba)

TOKYO -- Some 43% of respondents to a University of Tokyo internet survey said they would not want to eat agricultural products developed with genome editing technology.

The figure topped 53% when people were asked about whether they would eat genome-edited animal products. The poll results were unveiled at a June 5 meeting of the Japanese Society for Genome Editing in Tokyo.

The survey team led by Masato Uchiyama, a guest researcher at the University of Tokyo's Institute of Medical Science, queried some 38,000 men and women aged 20-69 in May and June last year, receiving around 10,700 valid responses.

The results showed that just 9.3% of pollees would want to chow down on genome-edited agricultural products. A mere 6.9% of respondents had an appetite for edited animal products.

However, 47.7% of those surveyed said they couldn't answer either way when it came to eating edited farm produce, while 39.8% said the same for genetically tweaked meat items. This suggests a large swathe of Japan's population remains undecided about adding genome-edited foods to their menu.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare will not conduct safety inspections of foods developed by using genome editing tools to disable certain genes. However, the ministry plans to allow the edited foods onto the Japanese market as early as this summer, as long as developers have reported the products to the government. The Consumer Affairs Agency is also still considering labeling provisions for genome-edited foods.

"Public awareness and understanding of genome editing is still low," commented sociologist and research team member Kaori Muto. "If the move to green light these products for the market continues to be as slipshod as it has been, there's a chance Japanese citizens won't accept them."

(Japanese original by Momoko Suda, Science & Environment News Department)

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