Japanese officials considering imposing stricter GM labelling laws

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

Consumer groups in Japan want tighter GM regulations. ©iStock
Consumer groups in Japan want tighter GM regulations. ©iStock

Related tags Food

Reports from Japan suggest officials are weighing up imposing stricter rules for the mandatory labelling of food items containing genetically modified foods.

As present, eight GM crops are regulated, while 33 food items are required to state on pack if they contain GM ingredients.

The list includes soy- and corn-based products, including tofu, natto, soymilk, cornstarch and popcorn.

However, the volume of imported GM crops, and food products containing GM ingredients continues to rise, despite widespread consumer unease.

The Japanese government now plans to convene a panel of experts on the matter, including experts from the food industry and consumer groups, unnamed officials from the country’s consumer affairs agency told the Japan Times.

It cited figured form the country’s agriculture ministry which show 2015, 11.8m tonnes of corn and 2.33m tonnes of soy were imported from the United States, with over 90%t of it was believed to be genetically modified.

Overall, in terms of total calories consumed, Japan imports around 60%of its food each year.

Japan’s current GM rules have been criticised by some consumer groups for not going far enough, and some are demanding mandatory labelling for all items containing any GMOs.

At present, Japan allows a 5% tolerance for GM content in foods approved by regulators in the country..

Those that fall below this percentage can use the labels "Non-GM product segregated"​ or "Not genetically modified".

Products that exceed the tolerance, the item must be labelled "GM Ingredients Used"​ or "GM Ingredient Not Segregated".

Imported food items containing GM DNA or protein between 1% and 5% should be labelled "may contain GM ingredients"​. Those that fall below 1% do not need to label the product.

Food manufacturers in the country are wary of the cost implications of any new measures, but are understood to be willing to discuss the issue to find common ground.

The consumer groups leading the charging for tighter rules argue the present system doesn't adequately inform shoppers of what they are buying.

More stories from Japan...

The megatrends driving consumer food and drink behavior in Japan

Japan is gripped by a series of key trends affecting all manufacturing industries, resulting in a clear knock-on effect to the food and drink industry, according to analysts.

Experts from Euromonitor in Japan say there is a growing generation gap, with consumers in their 40s and 50s who experience the bubble economy more willing to spend of luxury items, while those in their 20s and 30s are preferring to spend their disposable income on experiences.

And as consumers are increasingly interconnected and online, their product knowledge and demand for convenience continues to grow.

For the food industry, this means that packaged foods with readily understood health benefits are seeing considerable growth.

Analysts say this trend cuts across all categories, with yoghurts and chocolate fortified with probiotics experiencing the greatest gains.

The level of consumer understanding and acceptance of probiotics in the country has developed to the extent that shoppers are seeking out specific strains.

In the drinks space, authenticity continues to be a major consideration.

According to Euromonitor analysts in Tokyo, this is a particular trend in alcohol.

Products made in Japan, be they craft beers, wines or whiskies, enjoy greater sales if they can convey a convincing back story and play on their national and regional heritage.

Mitsui Sugar takes stake in sugar waste joint venture

Japan’s Mitsui Sugar has struck up a joint venture with Toray Industries to manufacture cellulosic sugar from the bagasse generated from Thailand’s sugar mills.  

Cellulosic sugar can be used as a raw material for producing various biochemical products such as ethanol, lactic acid and succinic acid.

The JV, called Cellulosic Biomass Technology Co, will be headquartered in Bangkok with Toray holding a 67% interest, and Mitsui Sugar the remaining 33%.

The plant in Udon Thani Province, will begin operations in August 2018, will have the capacity to manufcature out 1,400 tons of cellulose sugar annually.

The the plant will manufacture polyphenol and oligosaccharides, which can be made into livestock feed, using the same raw material and process.

Thailand is Asia's largest sugar cane grower and the fourth largest in the world.

In addition to sugar, Tokyo headquartered Mitsui Sugar also manufactures  functional sweeteners, natural food colourings and flavours.

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