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July 2024

Hay fever-fighting rice to be part of Japan’s economic stimulus

Japan is set to financially support the development of a genetically modified rice that can alleviate hay fever symptoms when consumed as part of economic stimulus measures being drawn up, government sources said Thursday.

The government aims to commence clinical trials of the transgenic rice, which will be powdered and processed into tablets or capsules, in fiscal 2024, with plans to commercialize the drug within the next 10 years, the sources said.

Since fiscal 2000, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has been working on developing the rice produced by genetically modifying rice crops to contain peptides from Japanese cedar pollen allergens.

Allergies to the pollen, causing symptoms such as runny nose and itchy eyes, are estimated to affect more than 40 percent of the population in Japan, according to an Environment Ministry survey.

While sales of products to prevent hay fever, such as face masks and air purifiers, help increase consumer spending, analysts also point to the adverse effects on the economy from pollen allergies as consumers refrain from going out, pressuring the restaurant and entertainment industries.

Exposing the body to cedar pollen allergens for a period of time before hay fever season can potentially induce immune tolerance and relieve allergy symptoms, according to the sources.

The government is also considering collaborating with pharmaceutical companies to develop the transgenic rice.

Other initiatives in its comprehensive policy package to tackle hay fever include subsidies for purchases of advanced machinery to fell artificial cedar forests, as well as assistance to replace cedar trees with a species that releases less pollen and improve cedar timber distribution facilities.

Calling hay fever a “major societal concern,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida launched a ministerial meeting in April to tackle the issue.

The government, which unveiled measures on allergy prevention, pollen forecasts and treatments in May, plans to reduce the total area covered with cedar trees by around 20 percent over the next 10 years. QR Code

Published Date: October 27, 2023

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