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

US Investors Eye IPO for China's Alibaba

E-commerce giant handled 80 percent of China's online business last year, logging more Internet transactions than US-based Amazon.com and eBay combined More

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

As cease-fire begins, Palestinians celebrate in streets; Israelis remain wary More

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

In treatment of a 12-year-old boy Chinese doctors used a 3-D printer and special software to create an exact replica of vertebra 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.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.

AppleAndroid