WASHINGTON, D.C, U.S. — A team of Japanese food, feed and environmental regulators from four government agencies recently visited their U.S. counterparts as well as U.S. biotechnology seed companies, biotech industry organizations, a U.S. corn farmer and companies involved in the production, distribution and export of U.S. corn to Japan, the U.S. Grains Council (USGC) said on Aug. 5.

The Japanese regulators are responsible for the approval of biotech corn events, and during their July 26-30 visit the team explored how Japan’s regulatory system could best work with the U.S. corn production and distribution system to handle future U.S. biotech corn events.

The team examined how U.S. regulators and the biotech industry address the unintentional, low-level presence of unapproved events in the commercial corn supply and practical solutions for maintaining the continuation of trade should such an event occur. The team also learned about how the U.S. biotech regulators and industry establish responsible, risk-based measures and policies for handling any unintended comingling of unapproved events involving commercial corn.

The team’s visit included a stop at Dan Erickson’s 1,500-acre corn, soybean and cattle farm in Alden, Minnesota, U.S., for a first-hand look at biotech crop production and the implementation of production-related environmental rules.

"They commented that 98% of the corn in Japan is from the United States, so it’s a pretty big deal for them to see it growing, how it’s grown and what goes into it," said Erickson, a regional representative for USGC member Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council.

"We showed them both sides of the operation," he said, including the crops and 450 head of cattle, which included a detailed look at biotech root traits. "They wanted ‘to make sure it’s safe and make sure we’re still healthy after handling them [the biotech crops].’"

Among the benefits of using biotech seeds, Erickson said, is the protection from rootworm.

"The alternative is insecticide. That means as growers we’d have to handle that, and as growers, we’d rather not," he said

When the insecticide trait "is in the actual seed, we don’t have to use the insecticide," Erickson said.

Erickson also pointed the group to the farm’s refuge acres, about 20% of his cropland, on which the worms can feed so they don’t mutate and become resistant to the seed insecticide traits.

The differences in scale between Japanese and U.S. farms require the use of different cultural practices, and in the U.S. that means large tractors and combines.

"Just the combine and tractor generated a lot of pictures," Erickson said. "We were the first farm in the U.S. they’d ever been to."

The visit of the regulator team "was really rewarding," Erickson said.

"They were interested in what we were talking about. They took a lot of notes, took a lot of pictures and asked a lot of questions," he said. "I thought that was real positive."

Japanese departments represented in the visit included the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare; the Food Safety Commission; and the Food and Agricultural Materials Inspection Center.

Suguru Sato, an agricultural specialist with the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, and Tommy Hamamoto, U.S. Grains Council director in Japan, travelled with the team.