Japan eyes stricter labeling on non-genetically modified foods

TOKYO, Dec. 19 — Japan is considering a stricter labeling policy for non-genetically modified organisms (GMO) to allow consumers to make the right choice.

A panel of experts that included food makers and consumer protection groups held a seventh round of talks on Dec. 18 for the Consumer Affairs Agency to review GMO policy.

Under the 2001 GMO labeling law, Japan requires mandatory labels for eight crops containing GMO, such as soybeans and corn, and soy- and corn-based products. Such products include tofu, natto, soymilk, miso, corn starch and popcorn.

But at the same time, Japan allows a five percent tolerance for GMO content in food.

In other words, if the GMO content is less than 5 percent from production through processing, those foods are allowed to be labeled as non-GMO.

During the meeting, consumer protection groups presented a survey that found 70 percent of respondents viewed those non-GMO labeled products as containing absolutely no GMO material.

They questioned accuracy in labeling and argued that the current GMO labeling policy is misleading to consumers. Therefore, they advocated food labeled as non-GMO to be totally GMO-free.

On the other hand, the food industry insisted cost increases are inevitable in the case of zero tolerance for GMO content.

The food industry said: “With zero tolerance, virtually no food would exist that could be labeled as non-GMO. Is this really what consumers want?”

The National Federation of Agriculture Cooperative Associations (ZEN-NOH), the marketing arm of Japan’s largest farmers’ group, took the middle ground and proposed a new labeling description for the GMO content below 5 percent.

The panel will meet again on Jan. 31 and is expected to release a report that includes recommendations by the end of March 2018.

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