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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Japanese Ministry Proposes Labeling Biotech Foods




TOKYO -- Japan's Agriculture Ministry, under pressure from consumers, proposed Wednesday that foods made with genetically altered crops be specially labeled - a move that could spark trade tensions with the United States.


Japan, believed to be the world's biggest importer of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, is heavily dependent on farm imports from the United States, the world's largest producer of genetically altered crops.


The United States has warned that if Japan implements mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods, it could mislead consumers about food safety and disrupt agricultural trade.


Japan has approved 22 varieties of GMOs under its safety guidelines, including soybeans, corn, rapeseed, potatoes, cotton and tomatoes, but the ministry said labeling requirements should be imposed on these crops and food products that use them in order to allow consumers to make an informed choice of foods.


The ministry expects, however, that the proposed rules will affect only a small portion of Japan's imports of U.S. crops, since exemptions are granted to any food products in which DNA or protein resulting from gene alteration cannot be detected using existing technologies.


The ministry submitted its proposal to a government committee working on GMO labeling rules. The committee plans to make a final decision on the issue by the end of this month.


Meanwhile, Australia and New Zealand on Wednesday agreed to order the mandatory labeling of food containing GMOs, the two governments said in a joint statement.


The health ministers for the two governments announced the decision through their joint Australia and New Zealand Food Standards Council.


How the labeling would be enforced would be decided in October, the food council said.


This would include the setting of a threshold level for genetically modified ingredients before a food has to be labeled as containing genetic modifications.


The food council said it would consider the implications for the two countries' World Trade Organization obligations in requiring foods to be labeled.