Japanese regulators recently completed a week-long tour of the U.S. to update officials to learn about American biotech regulations and technology advancements. The tour was an effort to avoid trade disruptions, like this summer’s white wheat embargo, that involve biotech-based foods.
Specific biotech-related issues included “asynchronous approvals of biotech corn events and unintentional presence of unapproved biotech corn events," according to Tommy Hamamoto, USGC director in Japan. "The U.S. Grains Council recognizes the need for more efficient and streamlined biotech approval systems in Japan to accommodate the future, expanding biotech commercialization." There are two ways for Japan to address those needs, he continues. That nation should either use the results of field tests conducted in other countries to increase the efficiency of reviews for imported products, or should allow the use of electronic submissions of databases, Hamamoto says.
The U.S. Grains Council, which organized the tour, points out that Japanese regulatory officials rotate every two to four years. Therefore, newly-appointed regulators are not necessarily aware of all the biotech issues or their resolution. That lack of knowledge can create unnecessary delays and requirements in international trade. Part of the goal of last week's visit to the United States was to educate new officials on scientific risk assessment in agricultural biotech products, production and trade of biotech products.
Full food, feed and environmental approvals are required for genetically modified organisms before they can be exported to Japan. To obtain these necessary approvals, petitions are sent to individuals expert committees through responsible government offices. The responsible government offices consist of fewer than 10 officials and the committees consist of 10 to 20 part-time, non-government scholars.
These issues are not unique to Japan, but the volume of U.S. agricultural exports to that nation make it a priority. According to the USGC, the volume of U.S. corn exports to Japan adds a special urgency to the need to avoid trade disruption. Japan imports 10-15 million metric tons (393.7-590.5 million bushels) of U.S. corn a year, which means that both Japanese end-users and U.S. grain producers need Japan's regulatory system to remain science-based, risk-based and well-coordinated with the United States' system.