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#081 09/06/99

Birth control pill and labelling of clone cattle meat

According to one of my local newspapers dated 3rd June, the Health and Welfare Ministry panel gave the birth control pill the green light on 2nd June after 9 years of official debate and submitted its recommendation to the Ministry, that is supposed to officially approve the low-dosage pill by the end of this month, making the contraceptive available to women in Japan within this year. Within the panel, there has been quite an argument between the pros and cons of the pill. The pill was first approved in the USA in 1960. Since then, the estimated number of women who enjoyed the pill is over 90 million worldwide.

On the other hand, the same local paper of the following day (4th June) reported the decision of the Ministry of Agriculture regarding the issue of shipments of cattle born with fertilized egg cloning technology. The decision was for the retailers to voluntarily label the clone cattle, instead of legalized obligation of the farmers and retailers.

The first issue, i.e., the approval of contraceptive pill, is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health, whilst the second issue is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Although these two issues are under two different jurisdictions, the second issue is closely related to the health and safety of the nation.

What a contrast! The first issue took as long as 9 years and the second one remains noncommittal in the hands of the Agriculture Ministry. The "Mere Old Man" wonders why this difference. As the Agriculture Ministry has recently had to make a lot of harsh decisions to the Japanese farmers, including the liberalization of rice import, for instance, they wants to protect the Japanese farmers. That is quite understandable.

However, that can never be justified because the safety of the cloned cattle has not been perfectly confirmed, although an official of the Ministry says, "cloned cattle is as natural as human twins or triplets in principle."

Does the Ministry seriously think that the farmers and retailers will voluntarily label the cloned cattle in compliance with the Ministry's wish? If so, the Ministry is underestimating the shrewdness of Japanese retail business people. There is a very strong likelihood that the Ministry are knowingly closing their eyes to the expected reaction of farmers and retailers at the risk of consumers. A typical bureaucrats' mentality!

The "Mere Old Man", who is not scientist, does not know the difference between the fertilized egg cloning technology and the technology of cloning from body cells. The only thing he can say is the fact that the cloning techniques are still early experimental stages. A few years is definitely almost nothing compared with the long history of human beings. The "Mere Old Man" strongly suggests the noncommittal official or officials, who have made this noncommittal decision, read the book, "The Biotech Century," written by Jeremy Rifkin, which has recently been published in Japanese from Shueisha, Tokyo (price is \2,000). If they still do not understand the risk, that the consumers have to take due to their noncommittal decision, they must be immediately fired because they cannot be regarded as public servants.

If the bureaucrats really believe that the retailers will comply with their administrative guidance not accompanied by penal regulations, that can be regarded as self-conceit and arrogance on their part.

Speaking about biotechnology, the majority of people tend to regard it as "scientific progress" and scientific progress is generally good to everybody on the Earth. But as Jeremy Rifkin points out, not all scientific progress is good. One easy example to demonstrate this point is the development of the atomic bomb. There will always be scientific progress which can result in irreversible environmental pollution.


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