Below are two presentations from Japan at Planet Diversity - a global festival celebrating natural and agricultural diversity

1. Buffer Zones Can Not Prevent GMO Cross-contamination
2. Aiming to Establish Sustainable Agriculture in Hokkaido
1. Buffer Zones Can Not Prevent GMO Cross-contamination

Keisuke Amagasa (No! GMO Campaign)
Tokyo, Japan
May 2008

GMO cross-fertilization by airborne pollen found at surprisingly large distances

Genetically modified organisms (GMO) pollution caused by pollen drift is spreading in GM crops cultivation areas such as the USA and in Canada. GMO contamination will occur once GM crops are cultivated. Therefore, the co-existence between GMO farming and conventional farming or organic farming is very difficult. This fact was proven by a research study conducted in Hokkaido, Japan.

The national guidelines for GM crop cultivation in Japan by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan (MAFF) has set the buffer zones for outdoor cultivation for research purposes. However the distances for buffer zones are set extremely short, thus there is no way to prevent GMO pollution under such circumstances.

According to Hokkaido's Ordinance for Prevention of Cross-fertilization Cultivation of GM Crops, which was enforced in January 2006, commercial planting of GM crops is banned in principle, trial cultivation is allowed upon notification, in which case isolation buffer zones from conventional crops on ordinary farmland are stipulated. The isolation buffer zone distances stipulated under the Ordinance are quite severe, being at least twice those mentioned under MAFF guidelines. For rice, for example, the MAFF guideline buffer zone distance is 30 m, but under Hokkaido’s Ordinance it is 300 m.

Hokkaido has carried out cross-fertilization trials for three years from 2006 to 2008 in order to test whether the isolation buffer zone distances stipulated in the Ordinance were meaningful or not. The results announced on 13 February 2008 were the results for the trials in 2007.

The five crops covered by the trials were rice, soybean, maize, rapeseed and sugar beet. With regard to rapeseed, only the kinds of insects that visited the flowers and the preventive effect of insect nets were investigated. For soybeans, a similar investigation as that for rapeseed was carried out in addition to the cross-fertilization trial. In the cross-fertilization trials, pollen collecting pots were placed at various distances downwind, each grain being analysed after collection.

In the case of rice, since cross-fertilization had occurred during the 2006 trial at the maximum distance stipulated in the Ordinance, 300 m, the trial was carried out using the distances of 450 m and 600 m in 2007. The result was that cross-fertilization occurred even at the 600 m distance. Cross-fertilization was also found to occur for maize at the maximum distance of 1200 m, and at 990 m for sugar beet.

As can be seen from the case of rice, it has been confirmed that airborne diffusion of pollen occurs over surprisingly large distances. The view that the current buffer zone distances are insufficient to prevent the occurrence of cross-fertilization is now becoming widespread. At the same time, the unrealistic nature of the MAFF guidelines has been thrown into sharp focus.

From this data we have to conclude that buffer zones can not prevent GMO cross-contamination.

Table 1)
Cross-fertilization Trial Results
[table can be seen at ]
As for the cases of sugar beet, 57 test spots were set within 4 m and 2500 m. In the result, within 4 m and 50 m, cross-fertilizations were found in all spots, and 4 spots among 33 spots in the areas further than 80m cross-fertilizations were found. Those 4 spots are shown in the table. (Source: Hokkaido Department of Agriculture, Food Safety Promotion Agency, Food Administration Section)

Table 2)
Isolation Buffer Zone Distances
[table can be seen at ]

Table 3)
Estimation of Cross-fertilization Possibility

Life-span of pollen
5-6 minutes
WV 1m/sec
0.3 km
WV 3m/sec
0.9 km
WV 5m/sec
1.5 km

Life-span of pollen
2-3 days
WV 1m/sec
172.8 km
WV 3m/sec
518.4 km
WV 5m/sec
864.0 km

Life-span of pollen
5-6 days
WV 1m/sec
432.0 km
WV 3m/sec
1296.0 km
WV 5m/sec
2160.0 km

The numbers were calculated using the lower limits of life-span multiplied with the wind velocity. 1 month is calculated as having 30 days.

(Source: Mr. Hyoji Namai, former professor at Tsukuba University, Japan)
2. Aiming to Establish Sustainable Agriculture in Hokkaido

Shinji Asada
Planet Diversity Gathering
Bonn, Germany
May 13 2008

Shinji Asada, Former Vice-Governor of Hokkaido and Head of the Hokkaido Agricultural Department worked for the Hokkaido Government in the field of agricultural policy for 32 years. He resigned from his government work 2 years ago and became Chairman of the Board for Rakuno Gakuen University. Mr. Asada is also a berry farmer.


Hokkaido, where I live, is the northernmost island of Japan. I worked in Hokkaido government offices for 32 years. Most of the years I was occupied with agricultural policy. I spent two years as the Head of the Hokkaido Agricultural Department and two more years as the Vice-Governor of Hokkaido before resigning in 2006. After I resigned I started an organic berry farm growing mostly blueberries in the town of Naganuma located 40 kilometers from the heart of Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido. Shortly after my resignation I was asked to be Chairman of the Board for Rakuno Gakuen University.

Comments about Rakuno Gakuen University

This University was founded by Torizo Kurosawa,who was a follower of the thinking of Shozo Tanaka. Mr. Tanaka is remembered for dedicating his whole life to help farmers who suffered from diseases caused by drinking water contaminated with heavy metals from copper mining. Mr. Kurosawa’s founding vision for education was based upon “three loves”: loving God, loving people, and loving the land. The school today consists of a high school a two year junior college and a four year university. In the University there are three departments: the department of dairy science, the department of veterinary science, and the department of environmental systems. Mr. Kurosawa believed that healthy soil makes healthy people and promoted the idea of sustainable agriculture making great contributions to Japanese organic agriculture.

History of Hokkaido Agriculture

The history of Hokkaido agriculture is relatively short. Only 140 years ago cultivation of farmland began. Many people were sent from the main island to Hokkaido and much governmental money was invested to ward off the possibility of Russian occupation of Hokkaido. But once a Japanese presence was established the federal government’s attention shifted to China under a policy of colonial expansionism. The government lost interest in Hokkaido. After Japan’s defeat in World War II Japan’s colonized lands reverted back to the peoples and so Japan had to face the problem of how to secure food for the nation from within its own land base. Once again there was a renewed interest in Hokkaido as a source of food for the nation.

With the growth of the industrial economy beginning in the mid 1950’s there was a growing polarization of income between farmers and other workers. Foreign trade expanded greatly. In 1961 the government established what was known as, the basic agricultural law of 1961. The basic law promoted structural reform of Japanese agricultural by liberalizing imports, increasing domestic farm size and also advocating increased specialization in crop production. Another name for the basic law was “the selective enlargement agricultural policy”.

Farmers in Hokkaido trusted the government policy. They obeyed by simplifying the number of crops they grew. They mechanized there farms and enlarged the scale of their operations. They used a lot of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in hope of increasing their yields. Hokkaido farms, because of their diligence in following government policy directives, were called “the best students of the national policy”. In reality ¼ of Hokkaido farmers quit farming and now over 30% of the farmers are over 65 years of age. There are few young people to take over the farms. Most rural areas have become depopulated and can hardly sustain communities in good condition. One example, in 1960 there were 63,00 dairy families in Hokkaido and now there are only 8,000 left.

As free trade has spread under globalization, industrialized agriculture was promoted using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Food has been commodified and it has had a series of negative impacts as I see it. One of them as I have mentioned is rural depopulation, A second is food, land and water have become contaminated with chemicals. And thirdly, and perhaps most significantly, the traditional principle of “chisan chishiyo nogyo”, that is growing food locally to feed local people, is being lost.

Federal government policies in Japan during the 1990’s were geared towards adjusting domestic prices of farm produce with that of global commodity markets meaning that farmers in Japan were being forced to adapt economically and technologically to the new conditions. The result has been ever increasing farm sizes with growing social and ecological impacts and a decrease in food self-sufficiency. The exact opposite of what the government had hoped for in promoting large-scale farming.

The Future Work on An Ecologically Sustainable Agriculture

We need to get young people interested in farming. It may seem obvious but I will say it anyways if rural depopulation continues and farmers continue to age without new farmers to replace them Hokkaido agriculture will fail and there will no longer be food to ship to the mainland to feed our cities. Another word for a shortage of food is hunger. Forty percent of the food grown in Hokkaido is shipped to the main island. All Japanese need to be mindful of this.

Secondly, farming is more than food production. Good farming is beautiful. Small scale diversified farms create a beautiful multi-colored landscape that is pleasing to the eye. City people enjoy the Hokkaido countryside which benefits the local economy through green tourism.

Japanese consumers have come to expect Hokkaido agricultural produce to be safest and most delicious foods in the world. I make no exaggeration. I have been working since 1992 on a project called “Yes Clean” to reduce the amount of chemical fertilizers herbicides and pesticides used in farming. It was welcomed with open arms by consumers but farmers were initially reluctant. This low input agriculture has grown and is now recognized as being the standard of Hokkaido agriculture. Moreover, since 2002 the Hokkaido government has been trying to promote Organic and GMO free agriculture.

Food Safety Regulation in Hokkaido

When I was Director of the Hokkaido Agriculture Department in 2003 the Hokkaido parliament requested of me to develop a food safety guideline for Hokkaido agriculture. I summoned a committee consisting of citizens and experts to deliberate appropriate issues. There were very strong opinions expressed opposing the growing and consumption of genetically modified crops. A small group of scientists and scholars took strong steps to counteract the citizens movement. In 2005 the Hokkaido government was able to pass a guideline that had the support of most citizens. It includes restrictions against farmers growing genetically modified crops. Although it restricts farmers from growing genetically modified crops in Hokkaido, it does not make Hokkaido a GMO free zone. Scientific research in Hokkaido is still allowed within strict limits. We need to keep an eye on this as a civil society movement.

Closing Remarks

Torizo Kurosawa, the founder of Rakuno Gakuen University 35 years ago said, “Soil nurtures all of human life just like a mother nurtures the life of a newborn child. Healthy soil makes healthy people. We destroy our agriculture and our own lives through the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. We have to try to regain clean soil and healthy food whatever the sacrifice and cost.”

Two years ago the federal government of Japan enacted an Organic Agriculture Promotion Act and the Hokkaido government followed by enacting the Hokkaido Organic Agriculture Promotion Plan. With these regulations there is potential for the future growth of organic agriculture without GMO’s in Hokkaido. With consumer support we will continue to work to increase the self-sufficiency rate of Japan through the efforts of organic farming. We hope local farms become prosperous and people return to the rural area and that happiness and prosperity will come in the midst of the hard work and struggle. The recovery of local economies and the prosperity of small farms, I believe is the key to healing our ecological woes and to the promotion of world peace.

Thank you.