GMO Foods Labeling in Japan



By Setsuko Yasuda
NO! GMO Campaign (Consumers Union of Japan)
12 September 1999


The Advisory Committee on GMO Foods Labeling of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries decided about the main points of the labeling on August 10th, 1999, having spent over two years debating the issue since May, 1997. The Committee will announce the regulation in April 2000 with one-year grace period, then put the mandatory labeling into effect from April in 2001.

The proposed labeling regulation has the following three articles:

  1. GMO agricultural crops which are not substantially equivalent with the conventional foods and the processed foods mainly made up from these materials should be labeled. The specified foods (to be expected) are soybeans with high oleic acid, its soybean oil and its products. The mandatory labeling will be expressed as "Soybeans (High Oleic Acid/ GMO)".
  2. GMO crops substantially equivalent with the conventional foods and the processed foods in which GMO-DNA and protein of this GMO-DNA are present should be labeled. The mandatory labeling will be expressed as xyz (GMO Not separated)". The specified foods are
  3. Soy: Soy beans, soy bean sprouts, fried, steamed or boiled soy beans, tofu, processed foods from tofu, freezed tofu, natto (fermented soy beans), soy milk, miso, soy bean powder

    Corn: Corn on the cob, corn snacks, corn starch, pop corn, freezed corn, canned corn

    Potatoes: Raw potatoes

    Main ingredients: Soy flour, vegetable protein, corn flour, corn grits

  4. GMO crops substantially equivalent with the conventional foods and processed foods in which GMO-DNA and protein of this GMO-DNA are not present (by being eliminated and/or disintegrated) do not have to be labeled. These foods without labeling are soy sauce, soy oil, corn oil, rapeseed oil, cottonseed oil, cornflakes, starch syrup, isomeric liquid sugar, dextrine, mashed potatoes, potato starch, potato flakes, frozen potatoes, and processed foods mainly made up of the above. However, processed foods made up of separated Non-GMO crops may be labeled as "Non-GMO" or "GMO separated".

We Japanese consumers welcome the government final decision to label GM food but there are the following problems.

All Japanese consumer groups have requested that GMO foods should be clearly labeled. This means that food from GMO crops and "not-separated" crops must be labeled. Also, processed foods made up of these materials should be labeled as GMO. With scientific methods, it is 100% possible for GMO crops to be detected. If crops are labeled, then food makers will be able to label their products as well. Therefore, Japanese consumer groups demand that this regulation must include guidelines for certification requirements so that GMO crops can be identified at all stages of food production.

Because labeling in the current Japanese proposal will be restricted to the final food products in which GMO-DNA and protein of GMO-DNA can be detected, such foods subjected to labeling may become quite limited. If applied on the current situation, 90% of the raw materials of GMO crops imported to Japan would be excluded from labeling, according to the Japanese government. This is not acceptable. For example, consumers clearly reject that oil and soy sauce are excluded from labeling.

The proposed regulation does not mention animal feed from GMO crops. This is not acceptable and must be addressed. A very large amount of the imported soy and corn is used for animal feed. Animal feed labels are necessary so that farmers can provide consumers with a choice.

The Japanese government propose the expression "main ingredients" and suggests that 3 main ingredients must always be labeled unless their weight percentage is less than 5% of the total food weight. However, in many processed foods such as sausages, fish sticks or ham, GMO ingredients are used in small amounts.

Frozen GMO potatoes are for some strange reason excluded from the proposed regulation. Japanese consumer groups strongly protest against this.

GMO soybeans with high oleic acid are mentioned in the proposed regulation, even though they have not yet been approved by the Japanese government. Clearly they are different from the conventional soybeans. All GMO foods that are not substantially equivalent must be approved with a special safety evaluation. It is not appropriate that the proposed regulations discuss special cases of GMO foods that have not yet been approved or deemed as safe.

Concerning the optional labeling of "Non-GMO", the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries think that Non-GMO foods may be mixed with GMO foods. The proposed regulations suggest a 5% maximum limit when Non-GMO foods are distributed through IP handling. However, EU countries are already setting a stricter threshold limit of less than 0.1% for foods that can be labeled as "Non-GMO". If the Japanese government approves foods with less than 5% GMO detection as "Non-GMO", these foods will have to be labeled as "GMO" for the export to Europe.

In addition, food containing 4% GMO materials which is likely to be rejected for purchasing in Europe may possibly be sold at a higher price to Japan since it will be labeled as "Non-GMO". Japanese consumer groups think "Non-GMO" labeling means "GMO Free", so it is right for EU countries to set up a strict Non-GMO standard of 0.1% detection of GMO.

The Japanese government should not use the word "not-separated" on labeling, but a word such as "GMO" which is much easier for a consumer to understand.


Secretary General, "NO! GMO Food Campaign"
Setsuko Yasuda

Consumers Union of Japan (
Asaga Building 2F, 1-10-16 Meguro Hon-cho, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 152-0002 Japan
Tel: (81)-3-3711-7766
Fax: (81)-3-3715-9378