Foreign trade in genetic material of Japan’s wagyu cattle would become subject to criminal prosecution under a new law that the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry intends to establish, imposing legal penalties on those who illegally obtain or transfer the genetic resources of wagyu cattle such as sperm or fertilized eggs to third parties without permission.
The government aims to submit the bill to the ordinary Diet session that begins on Monday.
In the past year, three men who attempted to smuggle genetic resources from Osaka to Shanghai have been convicted of violating laws including the Domestic Animal Infectious Diseases Control Law. That law, however, was only designed to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. As of now, there is no law which directly controls the outflow of genetic resources.
Under the new law, businesses that use deceit to obtain genetic resources from livestock farmers and other owners, such as by lying about where or how the resources will be used, or that transfer the genetic resources to a third party without permission, will face criminal punishment. The law will also penalize those who export genetic resources to other countries, with the knowledge that they have been illegally obtained.
In addition, the ministry will create a right to preemptively ban the resale, use or export of genetic resources. The ban would restrict the activities of not only those who directly obtain the materials but also their intermediary agents, and would apply should livestock farmers become aware of the possibility of them being misused. It also plans to set a presumed amount for damages that will be incurred as a result of the illegal use of these genetic resources to make it easier for livestock farmers to demand compensation from malicious businesses, according to sources.
In October last year, the agriculture ministry established a panel of experts to consider new laws and regulations. At a meeting of the panel on Dec. 17, one participant insisted on preventive measures, saying, “The establishment of criminal penalties is the most effective way to prevent illegal outflow.” The panel is expected to compile an interim report on Monday, and the ministry will begin to work on drafting a bill to punish violators.
The ministry is considering whether the new law will cover not only genetic resources that have been illegally used but also the wagyu cattle that have been created through the misuse of such resources.
The ministry aims to revise the law on improvement and increased production of livestock at an ordinary session of the Diet this year in order to call on genetic resource brokers to tighten distribution control, such as listing the names of individuals who collect genetic resources and managing trade books. A senior ministry official said: “Japanese wagyu beef, which has a strong brand name, is a national asset. We want to improve the attractiveness of our products by eliminating defects in laws and regulations and preventing their outflow overseas.”