Japanese biotech regulators study U.S. regulatory system

by World Grain Staff
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WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — A team of Japanese regulatory officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) visited the U.S. Aug. 31-Sept. 4 to learn how U.S. agriculture stakeholders manage and regulate biotech crops.

The learning journey was one of approximately 30 trade teams scheduled to visit the U.S. grain production region this year to see firsthand how U.S. feed products are produced and prepared for export. These teams are a central part of the U.S. Grains Council’s (USGC’s) efforts to both promote direct sales of U.S. feed products and ensure the marketplace is open to what U.S. farmers produce, including corn produced with biotech traits.

Japan has a well-developed regulatory system for biotechnology, with food safety approvals covered jointly by MAFF and MHLW, with one agency responsible for safety assessment and another responsible for risk management, including food safety approval. USGC local staff in Japan and in Washington, D.C., work to provide constant in-service training for Japanese regulators to allow them to stay abreast of the latest developments.

“Japan has worked hard to make sure that its regulatory system is science-based, efficient and transparent,” said Tommy Hamamoto, USGC director in Japan.

“In the Japanese system, regulators rotate through their positions every two to four years so old thinking doesn’t get entrenched and new people with the newest scientific training are always coming to the front. But it also means we have to consistently orient new people who have not yet worked with the U.S. system at a technical level.”

Members of the team visited major export terminals in New Orleans, an Illinois farm, and county and river elevators in Illinois and Iowa. They also met with seed technology providers for a discussion of U.S. biotechnology research and development, as well as with U.S. officials responsible for biotechnology assessment from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in Washington, D.C.

“The U.S. and Japanese food production and food regulatory systems have had a close partnership for many years,” said Andrew Conner, USGC manager of biotechnology. “We want to keep that partnership strong, and it is important for Japanese officials to have a personal, hands-on familiarity with the U.S. system.

“Seemingly small things like showing our Japanese partners firsthand the sheer scale of U.S. corn farms have an impact. And of course, it is important for them to develop relationships with the technology providers and their counterparts in the U.S. regulatory system. Study missions like this are important in building familiarity and maintaining open communication.”

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