News / USA

Genetically-Modified Papaya Hits Shelves in Japan

Debate continues over whether to label all GMO foods

Multimedia

Audio

"Rainbow" papayas recently went on sale in Japan.

They are the only gene-altered fruit on the market today in Japan, a country with strict laws regarding genetically-modified organisms (GMOs).



Those laws include a requirement that they be labeled as GMOs - a rule that does not exist in the United States.

The papaya’s arrival in Japan comes as advocates in the United States press the government to require labels on all GMO foods.

'Almost like vaccination'

The Rainbow papaya was released in 1998.

U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist Dennis Gonsalves, who helped develop the new fruit variety, may be its best salesman.

Dennis Gonsalves and his creation, the Rainbow papaya
Dennis Gonsalves and his creation, the Rainbow papaya

“I’m prejudiced, but I will tell you," Gonsalves says. "This Hawaii-grown papaya is the best in the world. You folks go and taste it.”

But taste was not the reason Gonsalves and colleagues developed it. In the 1990s, a virus ravaged Hawaii’s papaya groves, leaving the industry on the verge of collapse.

So Gonsalves engineered the papaya's genetic makeup to produce a small piece of the virus’s outer shell in its cells, triggering the plant’s immune system.

“It’s almost like vaccination,” he says.

And just like vaccinated people, the genetically-engineered plants do not get sick with the virus. Gonsalves says the piece of virus won't harm people because tests showed it breaks down in three seconds in the harsh environment of the human stomach.

“And, virtually, it saved the papaya industry in Hawaii," Gonsalves says. "So now, Rainbow papaya accounts for 80 percent of Hawaii’s papaya.”

Label debate

But, according to Gonsalves, fighting the virus was only half the battle. They had to convince their biggest customer - Japan - that the fruit was safe to eat.

It took more than a decade of tests before Japanese regulators were satisfied. The last hurdle was labeling.

Japan requires that all GMOs be labeled. That's also the law in the European Union and many other countries, but not in the United States.

A campaign called “Just Label It” seeks to change that.

Not all Americans are convinced GMOs are safe.

“And while the debate is raging on, and while we’re collecting data on the impacts of these very, very new crops, people deserve and need and have the right to know whether to participate in that system or not,” says Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stonyfield Farm, a major organic yogurt company and a backer of the campaign.

He and others cite polls showing that more than 90 percent of people say products containing GMOs should be labeled.

But those numbers don't mean much, says Val Giddings, with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

“People always opt for more information," says Giddings, "whether or not they have any idea what it means, or how they might use it.”

Giddings has worked on GMO policy for three decades. He points to research in the European Union, where labels are required, which shows that even consumers who say they avoid GMOs still buy products with GMO ingredients on the label.

Giddings says labeling supporters are trying to mislead consumers into thinking that authorities have concerns about the safety of gene-altered foods. He says they don't.

“Every authoritative body who’s looked at this without preconceptions has concluded that crops improved through biotechnology are at least as safe as their conventional counterparts.”

Major U.S., E.U. and international scientific advisory groups have agreed that today’s crop of GMOs do not pose a risk to health or the environment.

But they also say it may be appropriate to monitor these crops after they are on the market. That would not be easy, but labels would help.

Testing the market

The Rainbow papaya went on sale in Japan a few weeks ago with a label that says it is a GMO. Gonsalves hopes his fruit will help answer lingering questions about genetically modified foods.

“Now, instead of lots of speculation, ‘Oh, my gosh, these people aren’t going to eat it because they don’t like this.’ They’re all speculating," he says. "There is no test case. Now there is a test case.”

Gonsalves calls it the "Super Bowl" of marketing challenges: getting a population that's still widely skeptical of genetic-engineering technology to enjoy a beautiful, delicious papaya with a GMO label on it.


You May Like

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid