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Ken Kamiya is a Papaya Grower in Hawaii, the former head of the Hawaii Papaya growers association. He has first-hand experience of the benefits of ag biotech. Val Giddings (LVG) interviewed Kamiya to get an idea of how things look through the eyes of a small farmer.
LVG: Tell us about yourself and your farm.
KAMIYA: I grow my own brand of Papaya, Laie Gold, on 15 acres on the North Shore of Oahu. Laie Gold is a hybrid between the Rainbow biotech papaya developed by scientists from the University of Hawaii and Cornell, and my own, Kamiya variety that I derived from Nakasone stock. I developed Laie Gold after Hurricane Iniki and the ringspot virus wiped out my first efforts in the early 1980’s. I’ve been farming for nearly 30 years, since I took over from my father. We sell a premium, branded product locally, and our customers can’t get enough.
LVG: I’ve heard that biotech papayas from Hawaii may soon be approved for import to Japan. Can you give us an update?
KAMIYA: The biotech papaya has cleared all the safety reviews by Japanese authorities, but they’ve recently established a new committee to deal with labeling standards. That’s the final holdup, and we don’t know how long it will take, but we think we’re getting close.
LVG: Some claim the Japanese won’t eat biotech foods. What do you think?
KAMIYA: We have a local farmer’s market in Kapiolani. Lots of Japanese tourists come through there all the time. We’ve offered them samples of biotech papaya, and a few of them don’t know what to think, but most of them will give it a try. Once they do, they’re sold. As I said, it’s a premium, tree ripened, sweet and aromatic papaya. It sells itself. Our local customers can’t get enough and have even started saving the seeds and planting them in their own back yards. This has the added benefit of reducing the susceptible populations that maintain the virus in the Islands.
LVG: So your verdict on the biotech papaya is…
KAMIYA: We wouldn’t be here without it.
Giddings has a PhD in genetics from the University of Hawaii. He is a biotech consultant with nearly 30 years regulatory, media, and policy experience. He was a Vice President for BIO Food & Agriculture from 1997 to 2006. He can be reached at [email protected].