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Genome editing reports eyed for food production

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo

Tomatoes produced using genome editing technology are seen in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, in late March.

The Yomiuri Shimbun Vegetables, fish and other foods to which genome editing technology — which can modify genetic information with a high degree of precision — has been applied will be exempted from legal regulations if genes were not integrated into the food, a research panel of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry stated in a draft compiled on Wednesday.

To this end, the panel proposed that a system in which food producers report information on genome editing to the government will be introduced. The panel concluded that safety screenings under the Food Sanitation Law are not necessary for such food because gene modifications can occur in nature.

Genome editing methods include adding external genes, as well as giving original genes new functions by causing deficiencies in them or by making minor modifications.

The health ministry panel gave weight to whether external genes remain in the food at the final stage when the food is distributed. The panel determined that safety reviews should be carried out if such genes remain in the food, because it would then be regarded as genetically modified.

On the other hand, the research panel decided that the safety screenings would not be conducted for foods with no or very few external genes, because such foods are sometimes indistinguishable from those resulting from conventional breed improvement. Instead, the food producers will be requested to report safety information to the government. Reporting will not be mandatory, and information obtained will be open to the public.

Nontoxic potatoes and high-yield rice are among major agricultural crops under development using gene editing technologies. In particular, distribution of tomatoes found to suppress a rise in blood pressure may begin as early as the end of next year by a start-up company. Under such circumstances, the Environment Ministry compiled rules this summer on the impact on nature, and the health ministry stepped up the compiling of rules from the viewpoint of food safety.

However, there is concern among consumers about food safety, with calls for the introduction of a system to clearly specify that a food product contains ingredients produced using genome editing technology.

Nagoya University Prof. Masashi Tachikawa, an expert on genome editing technology, noted that introducing a system to label such foods will take time, adding, “For the time being, it is important that information provided by producers be disclosed to consumers in an easily accessible manner.”Speech

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