I went to the large Supermarket Trade Fair at Tokyo Big Sight, with hundreds of boots and tens of thousands of visitors with an interest in food. I like this fair a lot with its many local food producers from all regions of Japan, as well as many foreign companies and traders. All are aiming at getting a slice of Japan's appetite for delishious and healthy foods, and many novel products are introduced each year.
This time I was surprised to see Hawaiian Rainbow papaya on display. This product was recently approved by the authorities after many, many years of wrangling. The reason is Japan's reluctance to accept anything that is genetically modified, as the consumers here are up in arms against GMOs. GM rice, for example, was on test trials around 10 years ago, but farmer after farmer dropped out of the research as there seemed to be no benefits whatsoever, except for the large multinational biotech companies like Monsanto.
The GM papaya is a result of research and development that involves patents owned by Monsanto, but that US company is so hated in Japan that it has stayed in the background, as the Hawaiians clearly understood that another PR effort was needed that disassociated the GM papaya from Monsanto. Instead, it is marketed under a pretty "Rainbow" name, with hibiscus flowers and other Hawaiian imagery. But legally, the product must be labelled with text in Japanese, stating that it has been genetically modified (遺伝子組換え Idenshi kumikae). Currently, the GM papaya is only on sale at Costco, a supermarket chain, and cannot be easily be found anywhere else.
Consumers Union of Japan has protested against the GM papaya and the main concern is that consumers will not be given a choice to avoid this, in case the fruit is cut up or used in other products, like juice. The small label appears to be strongly glued onto the skin of the GM papaya, but would the information be passed on in restaurants if it is on the menu? Many people would prefer not to eat this product, and hopefully, the campaign to introduce this will be revealed as a "Trojan Fruit" to get other GM products into Japan. The powerful GM lobby was at the Supermarket Fair in Tokyo, but they are afraid of public opinion. This could get very interesting!
Consumers Union of Japan: GM Papaya, Consumer Reaction
First of all, we regard the cultivation and import of GM papaya as problematic. Japanese consumers who do not want to eat GM foods expect the GM label to be distinct and clear if GM papaya is to appear on the market. CUJ would like to point out the following problems with the approach taken by the Consumer Affairs Agency:
According to the suggestions, “The sticker could possibly be re-attached on the fruit, when the operator in charge deals with GM papaya only”, if the GM sticker is removed or falls off. If the manufacturer handles both GM papaya and non-GM papaya, all products from that manufacturer should be labeled as “may contain GM papaya” due to the possibility that mixing appears.
The Consumer Affairs Agency recognizes that there may be cases when the GM papaya is sold without a label because it has been removed or falls off, but takes a relaxed attitude to this possibility. This should be regarded as a serious violation. CUJ regards the act of selling GM papaya without correct GM labeling as a violation that should be severely punished by the law.
Top image from Aloha Street, a Hawaiian website.
Update I: The island of Maui is the second-largest of the Hawaiian Islands.
Check out the Occupy Maui video and song: MONSANTO GO AWAY: http://bit.ly/xfjLOx
And see the photos of Maui activists protesting and calling for GMO labeling: http://t.co/dFrw4Tj4
and http://t.co/FMpS94w5 from Mauinow.com
Update II: For details of the week of protests against Monsanto: http://bit.ly/wmtqjI
The week of events planned by Occupy Wall Street Maui and posted on the http://www.occupymaui.com website include:
Monday, January 23, 2012: a roundup-themed garden highlighting concerns over herbicide use.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012: a march is planned past Monsanto crops along the Piilani Highway in South Maui.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012: a rally in Kahului is planned to spread information on the effects of GMO products.
Thursday, January 26, 2012: a march is planned in Wailuku to protest Monsanto and claims of the company’s influence in government.
Friday, January 27, 2012: An Occupy with Aloha event is planned at the University of Hawaii Maui College.
Saturday, January 28, 2012: Plans to Occupy local farmers markets and fruit stands, and gathering for a day of teach-ins, music, and organic food is planned.
Sunday, January 29, 2012: A dusk vigil will be held for small farmers at the occupation site fronting Monsanto on Maui.