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Editorial: New law vital to stop wagyu genetic resources from being taken overseas

  • February 23, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 2:01 p.m.
  • English Press

To protect wagyu, a valuable brand of Japanese beef, it is important to prevent the outflow of such genetic resources as fertilized eggs and sperm from this country.


The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry has put together a new bill to impose criminal penalties for the act of unlawfully taking genetic wagyu resources out of Japan. The ministry intends to submit the bill and seek to have it enacted during the current Diet session.


The bill covers such conduct as acquiring genetic resources from livestock farmers or other people while concealing the purpose of exporting them, as well as transferring such resources to third parties without permission. Individual offenders would be sentenced to imprisonment of 10 years or fined ¥10 million, while corporate violators would be punished with a fine of up to ¥300 million.


Last year, action was taken in a case in which men had attempted to take wagyu genetic resources out of Japan to China. However, no law existed that could directly clamp down on such an outflow, and therefore the domestic animal infectious diseases prevention law was applied to the case. Remedying deficiencies in legal restrictions is highly significant.


The envisaged law will incorporate a stipulation aimed at cases in which livestock farmers perceive that genetic resources they have sold may be used for improper purposes. In that event, the provision would enable such farmers to demand the courts stop a purchaser from doing so. The stipulation will help prevent harm to livestock farmers.


Tender wagyu beef enjoys strong popularity overseas. Its genetic resources are the result of long-running efforts by Japanese livestock farmers to improve its quality. If genetic wagyu resources are taken overseas to be used for breeding, wagyu beef exports are bound to decrease, dealing an immeasurable blow to Japanese livestock farmers.


Protect agricultural property


In taking the latest legislative action, the farm ministry had every reason to clearly designate wagyu as valuable intellectual property.


Under the legislation, the ministry will require livestock farmers and others to exchange written contracts when they buy or sell genetic resources. The main point of the envisaged law is that it includes a provision banning the use of such resources overseas. If a party to such a contract violates the law, the other contracting party will be able to demand a penalty.


Genetic resource brokers will be required, for example, to ensure that vessels containing fertilized eggs and sperm state the names of persons who have collected them, and also to produce books compiling records of transactions.


It is indispensable to strive for the removal of unscrupulous business operators through such strict distribution management.


There are also concerns about a possible outflow of agricultural products from this country. This is illustrated by cases involving Shine Muscat, a high-grade brand of grapes developed by a Japanese research institution. Shine Muscat seedlings have been taken to China and South Korea, grown there and then marketed in Southeast Asia.


The farm ministry will also submit to the current Diet session a bill aimed at revising the Plant Variety Protection and Seed Law. The bill covers cases in which a person who has bred a new variety of seed or seedling registers that variety. The developer will be able to limit areas of cultivation to such locations as within this country, and criminal penalties will be imposed if the new variety has been taken overseas in violation of the conditions.


Amid a continued decrease in domestic consumption due to the population decline, the government is seeking to expand exports of agricultural products. Protecting Japanese brands of products is indispensable for increasing international competitiveness.

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