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Japanese gov't to forgo mandatory labeling for genome-edited products

A panel of experts for the Environment Ministry discuss regulations on genome-edited creatures, in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Aug. 20, 2018. (Mainichi/Norikazu Chiba)

TOKYO -- The government is expected to forgo requiring the labeling of genome-edited products on the grounds that it is difficult to identify a breach of such requirements by proving the difference with non-edited foodstuffs.

The move comes as concerns have been raised among the public about the safety of eating agricultural and animal products developed with genome editing technology.

At a subcommittee meeting of the Cabinet Office's Consumer Committee on June 20, an official with the Consumer Affairs Agency stated, "It is impossible to scientifically verify the difference between (genome-edited products) and conventional agricultural products, so it is difficult to identify violations of obligations." The agency then sought opinions about the issue from panel members.

Meanwhile, panel members will discuss voluntary labeling of genome-edited products and aim to announce its decision by the end of August.

During the meeting, a Consumer Affairs Agency representative stated, "In order to obligate the labeling of genome-edited food products, it is necessary to identify products violating the rule and slap offenders with penalties. However, it is difficult to do so at the moment."

In response, a panel member stated, "It is necessary to adopt a scheme to provide information to consumers, even on a voluntary basis."

A number of attendees called for the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare to thoroughly ensure developers report genome-edited products. A ministry official said, "We will establish a system to provide preliminary consultations and notify businesses of their need to file reports." The official went on to say, "Publicizing the names of businesses that failed to file reports would work as social sanctions to some extent."

A council of the health ministry earlier worked out a policy to conduct safety screenings on products into which foreign genes were inserted, while seeking only the filing of reports for products whose inherent genes have been modified. Currently, genetically modified food products are subject to safety reviews.

It will ask businesses to file reports after confirming allergic and other effects of genome-edited products on people's health, as well as changes in the components of products.

(Japanese original by Reiko Oka and Ryosuke Abe, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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