On December 1, 2011, Rainbow Papaya from Hawaii will be fully approved for commercial shipments to Japan. This announcement marks the end of a long and tedious approval process which started in 1999, and the beginning of a new chapter for Hawaiian papaya growers. The approval of biotech papaya is significant because it is the first horticultural product, and the first direct-to-consumer food product to gain regulatory approval in Japan. The degree of acceptance of this product at the consumer level will serve as a leading indicator for numerous biotech products that are in the developmental and regulatory pipeline.
TK: Reading about the work the the Hawaiian papaya industry did to secure the Japanese market makes one appreciate the considerable investment they have made in the market. Will it pay off? Considering that each papaya must be labeled as genetically modified, the Rainbow papaya may indeed be a valid test case and barometer for market acceptance of genetically modified fruits and vegetables in Japan.
I assume that a certain portion of consumers in the U.S. - perhaps 10% or so - may resist biotech fresh produce. Most probably, that 10% can deter the introduction of biotech fresh produce in the U.S. until a significant GMO consumer health benefit is associated with a biotech fruit or vegetable. The fountain of youth pear, the anti-cancer carrot, the teeth whitening radish.
When I say biotech produce, what do you think of? The next true test case and public relations challenge in the U.S. may be the non-browning Arctic apple, currently under review by the USDA. Beyond regulatory approval, what will the market decide about the Arctic apple?
Once consumer acceptance is secured - with the Arctic apple now or another fresh produce item in five years - the flood gates will open. I have to believe pent-up research efforts will be expressed in a, ahem, "rainbow" of altered fruits and vegetables marketed all over the globe.