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Planet Ark World Environment News U.S. warns Japan against making GMO labels mandatory

Date: 28-Jul-99
Country: japan

Isi Siddiqui, special assistant for trade to the U.S. agriculture
secretary, expressed concern about possible GMO labeling requirements by
Japan when he met senior officials of the Agriculture Ministry in Tokyo.

"We do not believe that obligatory GMO labeling is necessary, because it
would suggest a health risk where there is none," Siddiqui told
reporters after the meeting.

He added: "Mandatory labeling could mislead consumers about the safety
of these products and require segregation of GMO and non-GMO foods. I
fear major trade disruptions and increases in food costs to consumers if
Japan requires mandatory labeling."

Siddiqui also said Japan, as a member of the World Trade Organisation
(WTO), is obligated to find the least trade-restrictive way of achieving
its objectives.

There are a number of ways other than labeling, such as educational
materials and public forums, to provide consumers with information on
genetic engineering, he said.

Keishiro Fukushima, director-general of the ministry's Food and
Marketing Bureau, was quoted by a ministry spokesman as telling Siddiqui
that Japan was considering reliable and practical GMO labeling. But he
did not elaborate on whether it would make labeling mandatory or
voluntary.

A Japanese government advisory panel on GMO labeling rules will make a
final decision by the end of August.

Japanese consumer groups have demanded mandatory labeling of
gene-altered foods due to concerns of possible health hazards, while the
food industry fears the idea could hurt sales.

Japan has approved 22 varieties of genetically engineered crops under
its safety guidelines, including soybeans, corn, rapeseed, potatoes,
cotton and tomatoes.

Japan is believed to be the world's biggest importer of GMOs as it is
heavily dependent on agricultural imports from the United States, the
biggest producer of genetically altered crops.

U.S. soybeans accounted for 77 percent of Japan's annual soybean imports
of 5.06 million tons last year. Japan's Agriculture Ministry estimates
GMO soybeans made up about 27 percent of total soybean planted acreage
in the United States in 1998.

U.S. corn accounted for 87 percent of total Japanese annual corn imports
of 14.7 million tons. The ministry estimates GMO corn in the United
States accounted for 23 to 34 percent of total corn planted acreage in
the United States in 1998.

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