The Government's pledge reflects the overwhelming Japanese distrust of genetically engineered (GE) food.
The party has said it will establish a food traceability system and has repeatedly called for more stringent labelling of GE food. Japan already has mandatory labelling of some GE foods and it is expected that new labelling laws will extend to processed foods such as GE canola oil.
Greenpeace GE campaigner Michelle Sheather says the change in government in Japan and the new position on GE food labelling will have major implications for Australia: “This is highly significant, since Japan is a major export market for Australian canola,” Ms Sheather said. “Tighter labelling laws will likely lead to greater demand for GE-free canola products, and lower demand for food products that need to be labelled as containing GE ingredients.”
In Australia, GE canola is grown commercially in small quantities in NSW and Victoria, and Western Australia is currently reviewing the Act concerning its moratorium on GE crops. A number of Japanese groups made submissions to Western Australia’s Review of the Genetically Modified Crops Free Areas Act 2003. These include the Seikatsu Club Consumers’ Cooperative Union and the Consumers Union of Japan.
Seikatsu - an umbrella group of 29 Seikatsu Club Consumers’ Co-Operatives - and its oil crushers Okamura Oil Mill Ltd and Yonezawa Oil Co. Ltd - all have non-GE canola policies. The groups stopped importing canola from Canada after the introduction of GE canola, when contamination made it impossible to guarantee a non-GE supply.
Seikatsu said in its submission: “[We] are concerned that we may be unable to buy non-GM canola from WA in the future…
“If a GM labelling system similar to Europe’s were implemented in Japan, a huge rejection of GM ingredients is anticipated. According to a poll conducted by the prefectural government of Hokkaido in October 2008, 80% of consumers feel anxious about eating GMOs. It has been claimed that GMOs are well-accepted in Japan, because Japan is the biggest importing country of Canadian GM canola but it is not true. In reality, a lot of Japanese consumers are eating oil derived from GM canola without knowing it.”
A survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project shows that Japanese consumers are overwhelmingly opposed to scientifically altered fruits and vegetables because of health and environmental concerns. A 2006 poll, by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Fishery and Forestry (MAFF), found that 78% of Japanese consumers were uncertain about the impacts of eating GE food.
In 2007, a group representing 2.9 million Japanese consumers travelled to Australia, urging state governments to extend their GE food crop bans. No GE crops are grown in Japan.