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Hawaii's genetically modified papaya OK'd for export to Japan

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 2:34 p.m. HST, Jan 11, 2012

Hawaii's genetically modified papaya has received approval for commercial shipment to Japan.

USDA officials said today the Japanese government will allow Rainbow papaya to be imported for the first time.

The announcement means papaya growers in Hawaii will regain access to a country that was once a major market. 

USDA Under Secretary Michael Scuse said in a statement the shipping of papaya was even better news for American agricultural exports in general.

"This announcement will ensure that Hawaii's papaya producers help to drive our agricultural economy by expanding exports, creating jobs, and strengthening our nation's competitiveness," Scuse said.

In 1996, annual sales of Hawaiian papayas in Japan totaled about $15 million. That figure dropped to $1 million by 2010 as U.S. exporters waited for Japan to approve the genetically enhanced papaya.

The majority of papayas sold in Hawaii are genetically engineered to protect crops after an outbreak of the papaya ringspot virus in the 1990s. Scientists at Cornell University, the University of Hawaii and the USDA developed the Rainbow papaya using biotechnology. Proving resistant to the virus, Rainbow papaya was commercialized in the U.S. in 1998. 

USDA officials have said these papaya are no different chemically from naturally grown papaya. 

The news of Japan's decision marks the end of a 10-year approval process.

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