The fifth “public discussion on Genetically Modified Food Labeling” was held by the CAA (Consumer Affairs Agency) on September 27, 2017. Issues debated during the public discussion on the labeling system for genetically modified (GM) food situation and the guidelines concerning the scope of mandatory labeling were discussed.
Debated issues during public discussions on the labeling system
Following the public hearings for consumer organizations and business owners at past public discussions, the issues debated during the discussions on the labeling system for GM food were summarized as follows.
(Source: Debated issues during discussions on the labeling system for genetically modified food (draft) (CAA))
1. Scope of the mandatory labeling
- Debated issue 1: Discussions on the food items subject to mandatory labeling
- Debated issue 2: Discussions on the scope of ingredients subject to mandatory labeling
2. Method of labeling
- Debated issue 3: Discussions on how to label “GM” and “GM, not segregated” in a way that is easy for the customers to understand
- Debated issue 4: Discussions on the requirements for “non-GM” labeling
Debated issue 1
Agricultural products (8 items) which are confirmed to be safe as GM foods and processed foods (33 items) which are made of those agricultural products are subject to mandatory labeling.
From a view point of securing the reliability of the labeling (and its feasibility), the processed foods subject to mandatory labeling are limited to the ones in which modified DNA or the proteins resulting from this modification are detectable even after being processed (hereinafter referred to as “modified DNA, etc.”).
- To prevent consumers from misunderstanding, all processed foods should be subject to mandatory labeling.
- From the viewpoint of securing reliability of labeling and feasibility, all products in which modified DNA, etc. is detectable should be subject to mandatory labeling.
Debated issue 2
Ingredients of processed foods and that are subject to mandatory labeling are limited to the ones which are the three most predominant by weight and whose proportion is equal or more than 5% in the ingredient and additive.
- The scope of ingredients subject to mandatory labeling should be broadened.
- It should be considered in regards with what the business owners can practically do.
Debated issue 3
Agricultural products which are confirmed to be handled in accordance with an “Identity preservation” system, as well as processed foods using those agricultural products as ingredients, are subject to mandatory labeling of “GM”.
Also agricultural products which are not separated into GM or non-GM, and processed foods which use those agricultural products as ingredients are subject to mandatory labeling of “GM not segregated”.
- It is hard to understand the meaning of the “GM, not segregated” labeling.
- Most of the inquiries about GM food concern the meaning of “GM, not segregated” labeling.
Debated issue 4
Provided it is has been confirmed that they are being handled under an “Identity preservation” system, non-GM agricultural products and processed foods which use them as ingredients can be labeled as “non-GM”.
However, even when being handled as such (thanks to an IP system), soybeans and corn still have a risk to be mixed with GM agricultural products. Therefore, a product may be labeled as “non-GM” –granted that the identity preservation handling is properly performed- even if a certain amount of “unintentional GM presence” (5% or less) has been confirmed.
- 1. The fact that a product may be labeled as “non-GM” even when GM agricultural products are actually present (up to 5%) can be misleading. Thus, it needs to be improved.
2. The standard regarding “unintentional presence” should be lowered.
- Lowering the standards of unintentional presence is difficult considering supply availability and cost matters.
Each debated issues will be discussed and then there will be a general discussion considering the whole system. It has been decided to summarize the debated issues to the above 4 points.
About the guidelines on the scope of the mandatory labeling
Next, a discussion about the debated issue 1 “Discussion on food items subject to mandatory labeling” was held. Specific issues are as follows.
(Source: Guidelines on the scope of mandatory labeling for genetically modified food (draft) (CAA)).
- There is no demonstrable difference between products using GM ingredients and ones using non-GM ingredients. Therefore, it is impossible to verify scientifically.
- When processed foods which cannot be verified scientifically are inspected for false labeling, “social verification” (as opposed to scientific verification) such as on-site inspection at each business owner location (checking documents of verification) is the only method.
- In the case of processed foods which are produced from ingredients in Japan, it is possible to check the authenticity of verification documents by testing those ingredients. However, in the case of products imported already in the state of processed foods, the authenticity of verification documents cannot be confirmed well. As a result, the credibility of labeling can be tainted.
- In addition, we largely depend on imported ingredients and there is no international traceability system so domestic business owners (when importing ingredients) cannot confirm the authenticity of the documents. Consequently, the fact that it may render the import process more difficult and affect international trade is concerning.
As for debated issue 1, the discussion will continue mainly concerning scientific verification, and the disadvantage of making labeling mandatory to products which cannot be scientifically verified will be referred to. As a summary, the current system will basically be kept.
Next, a discussion about debated issue 2 “Discussion on the scope of ingredients subject to mandatory labeling” was held. Specific issues are as follows.
(Source: Guidelines on the scope of mandatory labeling for genetically modified food (draft) (CAA))
- There are more mandatory labeling items now than when the system was first introduced (in 1999). (The new Country of Origin Labeling system for ingredients started on September 1, 2017.)
- There are more and more foods served in single servings, which is causing the current trend of smaller packaging.
There was an opinion saying that we don’t need to limit the labeling to ingredients which are among “the three most predominant by weight and their proportion is more than 5%”. However, knowing that the GM labeling is not about safety, but instead about helping the consumers in their product choices, and also that the sheer amount of labeling can be problematic, the conclusion was to keep the current system.
It is scheduled to summarize the discussions in a report by the end of this fiscal year (March 2018).
The date of the next discussion is undecided, but we will ensure to tackle this topic following each significant progress.
While this information will not be needed anytime soon for actual business practice of food labeling, reading the material of the discussions can help you understanding the social environment surrounding food business in Japan such as the food self-support ratio, as well as the situation in different countries Therefore, it is recommended to read through it once.
Reference: Discussions on the labeling system for genetically modified food (CAA)