Japan's legislation on labeling of genetically engineered foods

Here is an update of Japan's regulations on genetically modified crops:

  • Approval of GM crops

Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare conducts scientific reviews to assess the safety of new GM crops. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries is responsible for assessing the environmental and feed safety of GM crops. MAFF is also responsible for approving new GM crops for feed use. Starting this April 1, safety assessments for feed will be mandatory. Japan has approved 44 GM crops for food use, including 15 canola varieties, 12 corn, 7 cotton, 5 potato, 4 soybean, and 1 sugarbeet.

This list is available at www.mhlw.go.jp/english/topics/food/sec01.html.

  • GM and non-GMO food labeling policies

MAFF and MHLW have implemented labeling requirements under the Food Sanitation Law and Japanese Agricultural Standards (JAS) for GM crops approved in Japan. Thirty foods are currently subject to JAS labeling requirements. They were selected because they are made from ingredients that could include GM products and because GM DNA or protein can be identified in the foods. These foods include soy- and corn-based products, including tofu, natto, soymilk, miso, products made with soy ingredients, corn snacks, cornstarch, popcorn, and products made with corn ingredients. If the GM content of these 30 foods exceeds 5 percent they must be labeled as "GM Ingredients Used" or "GM Ingredient Not Segregated."In order for a product to be labeled as "Non-GM," the GM content of the food must fall below 5 percent and the processor must be able to show that all non-GM ingredients were identity preserved from production through processing. Suppliers of the products are responsible for providing this documentation. Labels allowed for these products include "Non-GM product segregated" or "Not genetically modified." The 5 percent tolerance applies only to GM varieties that have been approved in Japan.

Guidelines for handling IP corn and soybeans for export to Japan is available at the Japan Food Industry Centers website: >www.shokusan.or.jp/business/pdf/ip_manul.pdf.

  • Monitoring of GM and non-GM labeled foods

MAFF and MHLW both randomly monitor samples of the 30 foods that fall under the labeling program for GM products. If testing finds that GM content exceeds 5 percent in products labeled "non-GM," the Japanese manufacturer or importer must change the label to read "Genetically Modified Ingredients."

  • Monitoring for unapproved GM varieties

Japan has zero tolerance for unapproved GM varieties that are found in foods. To assure compliance, both import shipments and processed foods for sale at retail stores are sampled and tested. Any detection of an unapproved GM event is deemed a violation of Japan's Food Sanitation Law. Products testing positive at port of entry must be re-exported, destroyed, or diverted to non-food use. Products testing positive at the retail level will result in the manufacturer ordering an immediate recall. The main products being tested include corn, soybeans, papaya, and potatoes. MHLW, which oversees the testing, has so far found one unapproved potato variety, an unapproved papaya on two occasions, and one unapproved corn: StarLink.

(Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service)
(February 2003)