Hugh Ashton: “a big question mark hovers over the future of GMOs in Japan”

1 Dec

In September a sister site asked whether the Trans-Pacific Partnership would intensify the corporate-political nexus or be as described: ‘open, free, transparent and fair’?

Last year, the FT’s David Pilling wrote: “The controversy that the TPP has caused in Japan is also a harbinger of difficulties ahead. Opponents have threatened to leave the ruling Democratic Party of Japan over fears that signing up would threaten the country’s farming industry. Japan produces just 40 per cent of its calorific intake and many officials are opposed to becoming even more dependent on foreign food”.

President Obama formally launched the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2011

Hugh Ashton, who moved to Japan in 1988, has written an article in Japan’s Majirox news asking: “Will TPP open the door to Frankenstein food in Japan?

He said that a big question mark hovers over the future of genetically modified organisms in Japan.

Though the advantages, according to the promoters, were noted, he pointed out that the use of GMOs had – according to the Soil Association – cost the US $12 billion in lost exports 1999 – 2008.

There is significant opposition outside the US, especially in Japan, the EU, and Australasia. He remembers:

“One company, Monsanto, has a large stake in this aspect of agribusiness, but suffered a setback in 2003, when the British government released the results of three studies on the effects of GMOs, wherein lasting damage to the environment was predicted if GMOs were introduced.

“In addition, a British poll at that time showed that 93% felt that not enough was known about the long-term effects of the so-called GMO Frankenstein food products, and 86% said they would not eat it. This popular reaction and these findings forced an effective halt to Monsanto’s research operations in the UK (and in other European centers)”.

In Japan, food is labelled as containing GMO ingredients or as being GMO-free, but Ashton points out that this would change if a key clause in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement were to be implemented:

“According to the Sustainability Council of New Zealand, “the US has made clear that a priority for it in the proposed TPP is the abolition of laws requiring the labeling of GMO food” as well as the acceptance of the import of such products. This clause would apply to the Japanese market and Japanese consumers”.

Potential drawbacks mentioned:

  • If this clause were to be agreed, Japanese consumers would be unwittingly exposed to any potential health hazards caused by ingestion of such food. Critics of the GMO business claim that many such health hazards exist, but that they have been swept under the rug by the companies involved.
  • Acceptance of this part of the TPP could also force Japanese farmers to accept the use of GMO crops, which might provide short-term profits. Though even this future profitability is subject to debate (a 2003 study showed that a Monsanto GMO cotton grown in India produced between five and seven times less net income than the indigenous variety according to an official governmental report).
  • Introduction of GMOs could bring about dramatic and drastic changes to Japan’s ecology – fragile at the best of times.

Ashton concludes that the Japanese TPP negotiation team should be made well aware of the ramifications associated with this aspect of the Partnership, and should think carefully before allowing Japanese consumers and the Japanese ecology to be unwittingly exposed to a technology imposed from outside, the effects of which have yet to be objectively and definitively assessed.


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