Science 3 min read

Japan Officially Approves Sale of Gene-Edited Crops

A panel of Japanese experts has ruled in favor of gene-edited crops. Deemed safe to human consumption, gene-edited foods would hit the market within months.

This new ruling will allow Japanese food companies to freely grow and sell gene-edited crops. ¦ Shutterstock

This new ruling will allow Japanese food companies to freely grow and sell gene-edited crops. ¦ Shutterstock

For a long time throughout human history, farmers have resorted to selective breeding techniques to boost the quality and quantity of plant food production.

In recent years, however, with powerful gene engineering tools at their disposal, geneticists can now quickly manipulate crops on the DNA level with high precision.

Although controversial GMOs involve the introduction of foreign DNA from a different organism, this isn’t exactly the case with gene-edited crops (GECs).

Gene-editing techniques, like CRISPR/CAS9, involve the alteration of the basic genetic makeup by adding or subtracting DNA sequences of an organism.

The difference between GMOs and gene-edited crops isn’t black and white.

Last year, adding to the confusion, the EU’s Court of Justice ruled that gene edited crops are to be treated like GMOs that are subject to stringent regulations.

Read More: The Future of Gene-Edited Crops Relies on You

In contrast to Europe, Japan — like the U.S. — looks with more favor on gene-edited foods.

CRISPR-Edited Foods to hit Japanese Shelves Soon

Now, Japan seems poised to follow the U.S. in paving the way for crops whose genome has been edited using CRISPR and other gene-editing tech.

Recently, a panel of experts put together by Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare published their recommendations regarding the safety of gene-edited crops.

Per the report (via Science Magazine), gene-edited products and seafood could be marketed in Japan without safety screening. Usual controls, like carcinogenicity and toxicity, will be required only when foreign genes are involved.

“There is little difference between traditional breeding methods and gene editing in terms of safety,” said Hirohito Sone, panel chair and an endocrinologist at Niigata University.

If adopted by the Ministry, these rules would go into force in the coming months. This would allow companies to distribute their gene-edited food products freely.

They just have to pass through a mandatory registration system and adhere to labeling rules currently being studied by the Japanese government’s Consumer Affairs Agency.

If science and regulations make room for gene-edited crops, this doesn’t mean consumers will be rushing to buy these products. Japan has a strong public rejection of GMOs, but gene-edited crops may fare better since they contain no foreign DNA.

Read More: All Japanese Convenience Stores to be Automated by 2025

Under FDA guidance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture gave the green light to most gene-edited crops.

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences has found no scientific evidence to suggest gene-edited crops bear any more health risk than conventional ones.

Read More: Natural Bacteria Could Soon Replace Pesticides

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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