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Growers Turn to Labeling Non-GMO Fruit

(14 July - Cropchoice News) -- Foreign buyers reaction to Hawaii's transgenic "super" papaya has been a firm no, deepening the crisis for Hawaii's papaya industry. Now some Hawaiian growers have come up with a response of their own: non-GMO labels. The stickers, which clarify the fruit's biotech status, are cropping up in supermarkets on the west coast. The fate of biotech papaya may indicate how the market will go when consumers face other GMO fresh fruits and vegetables under development.

The labels, some on Hula Moon brand papayas, sport the words "Not Genetically Modified" under (what else?) a hula-dancing woman.

The images might be exotic; but it's serious business for growers. The Hawaiian papaya industry has been dealt a 1-2 combination between an aggressive ringspot virus epidemic and the marketing failure of a virus resistant GMO papaya that was supposed to help the industry recover. The fruit began to go into the ground commercially over two years ago (papaya take about 18 months to reach maturity). When the fruit, started coming in larger quantities in late 1999, they were resoundingly rejected by foreign buyers.

Apple growers take note: Japan, which traditionally bought about 40% of the papaya produced in Hawaii, said no to the GMOs and offers more money for traditional varieties. The Canadians were similarly skiddish, as were the smaller number of European buyers. The result is that premiums for non-GMO fruit have shot up. Growers selling during market spikes have realized 700% (yes, 700%) greater profitability for the non-GMO fruit while the biotech papayas have gone looking for buyers. Growers who planted GMO say they are experiencing lucky-to-break-even conditions. Non-GMO growers suffer virus losses; but have greater profitability.

Despite the severe marketing problems, industry continues to aggressively promote similar papayas, which have not yet been approved for commercial planting, in other papaya-growing areas like Mexico.