Japanese Regulators See U.S. Biotech Systems Firsthand

A team of Japanese regulators involved in food, feed and environmental approvals for new biotechnology traits recently visited the United States to meet with U.S. government regulators, seed companies, industry organizations and corn producers to see how they work together to manage events in the commercial corn supply.

With a population of 127.1 million, Japan was the top export market for U.S. corn in the 2014/2015 marketing year, importing more than 12 million metric tons of corn and capturing 86 percent of the market share. Three-quarters of those imports were used for feed, 24 percent for starch and the remaining 1 percent for food use. With such diverse applications, new corn events and biotech regulations in general are important market issues for the Japanese grain industry. 

“Japan is beginning to diversify its sources of feed grain imports,” said Tommy Hamamoto, Japan office director for the U.S. Grains Council (USGC). “These trips are important because they allow regulators to see how innovations in biotechnology make U.S. corn stand apart in terms of availability, quality and sustainability.” 

The team began their U.S. visit in Louisiana, where they toured Zen-Noh’s grain export elevator and a local shipping operations company. Zen-Noh, a federation of agricultural cooperatives in Japan, is one of the world’s largest importers of animal feed and is involved in the marketing, tracking and quality assurance of products in its cooperatives. The visit gave regulators a window into the complex and intricate system involved in exporting corn to Japan and allowed them to see the impact of quality of export operations. 

After departing Louisiana, the team headed to North Carolina, where they visited a research farm and took a tour of a research facility whose scientists are studying new traits. The tour provided the opportunity for participants to ask questions and learn more about biotech events. 

“The team was able to see how innovation is shaping the U.S. biotech industry,” Hamamoto said. “It gave them insight into how their regulations might work with U.S. corn in the future.” 

The group also visited Washington, D.C., for meetings with U.S. regulators from the USDA's, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well as the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) and American Seed Trade Association (ASTA). 

While in the region, they also visited the farm of USGC Chairman Chip Councell on the Maryland Eastern Shore as well as a local farm services firm, allowing them to see farm operations in practice, view the current corn crop and gain a better appreciation for the importance of quality to U.S. farmers. 

With Japan looking to find efficiencies in its approval process and USDA APHIS reviewing its regulations, the trip gave regulators and the Council a chance to work together to maintain an open and uninterrupted trade relationship, an essential ingredient in market access. 

Click here for more information on the Council’s work in biotechnology. 

To learn more about the Council’s work in Japan, click here.