News / USA

Genetically-Modified Papaya Hits Shelves in Japan

Debate continues over whether to label all GMO foods

Multimedia

Audio
TEXT SIZE - +

"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

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

46 people are confirmed dead, but some 250 remain trapped inside sunken ferry More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends 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.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid