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[SANET-MG] gm papaya fails to save Hawaii
gm papaya is not saving the papaya industry in Hawaii
The Honolulu Adviser, Sunday, March 19, 2006
Papaya production taking a tumble
By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer
Hawai'i papaya production sank to a more than 25-year low last year
despite record demand among U.S. consumers for the tropical fruit.
Americans on average now eat 1 pound of papaya annually, which is up
from less than one-third of a pound just 10 years ago. That should bode
well for growers of Hawai'i's second largest fruit crop. However, last
year papaya production fell 17 percent to 28.5 million pounds, the
smallest crop since before 1980. Sales dipped 14 percent to $10.6
million, the lowest amount since 1985.
Imports from countries such as Mexico and Brazil are helping to fill
America's increasing appetite for papaya.
Hawai'i's papaya farmers, as with most farmers on the Islands, are
dealing with a long list of challenges, including foreign competition,
high costs, fickle weather, insects and disease.
"Plenty of people are not growing papaya anymore," said Alberto Belmes,
who grows papaya on about 70 acres of land seven miles outside of Hilo.
"The price is going down and still the costs of farming goes up."
Unlike most other Hawai'i farmers, papaya growers have one other issue
with which to deal. Many Hawai'i papaya growers are raising a
genetically engineered product that has yet to generate the market
acceptance and higher sales prices that non-genetically modified papayas
command. Japan, for example, does not accept genetically modified papaya.
Papaya growers elsewhere are not using the genetically modified product.
Developed in part by the University of Hawai'i, the genetically modified
papaya was designed to be resistant to ring spot virus, which results in
fewer and lower quality fruit.
The virus was first detected in 1992 on the Big Island, where the bulk
of papayas are grown. The genetically modified papaya was introduced in
1998. Papaya production picked up that year and for the following three
years. In 2002, production resumed its slide and has declined each year
Genetically modified papaya proponents argue that there would be no
papaya industry if not for the new variety. They also point out that the
widespread use of genetically modified papaya helps control the virus,
so non-genetically modified papaya can be grown virus-free.
"I've seen the (Big Island papaya) industry go down from the first day
it was infected in 1992," said Dennis Gonsalves, an inventor of the
genetically modified papaya and director for the USDA Pacific Basin
Agricultural Research Center in Hilo. "If you kept the situation like
that the curve would have gone down until it was no longer feasible to
Environmentalists and other critics contend the virus could have been
managed in part by reducing the size of plantings and by diversifying
the types of plants grown at any one time. While the genetically
modified papaya may reduce problems with the ring spot virus, it
introduced other problems by raising the risk of cross-pollination with
non-genetically modified and organic papayas. Proponents contend the
risks of cross-pollination are manageable.
Nevertheless, the use of genetically modified papaya in Hawai'i results
in a more rigorous testing regime for non-modified papaya to maintain
exports to markets that don't accept genetically modified papayas, said
Melanie Bondera, a board member for Hawaii Seed, an advocate for
sustainable agriculture and a GMO-free Hawai'i.
The genetically modified papaya did not save the industry as its backers
contend, Bondera said.
"They're apparently not looking at the bigger picture of the economic
problems that come with it — the cross-contamination, the market loss,
the testing costs," Bondera said. "Did we really have a problem that
would have killed the industry if we did not have the GMO (genetically
modified organism) papaya? That's their contention. The bottom line is
the GMO papaya has never sold for as much as the non-GMO papaya."
Because Japan doesn't allow imports of genetically modified papayas,
Hawai'i exports of papaya to Japan fell from $10.3 million in 1998 to
$4.6 million last year, according to the Foreign Trade Zone Division of
the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.
During that time, sales to the second largest importer of Hawai'i
papayas — Canada, which accepts the genetically modified product — more
than doubled to $2.6 million last year.
"In this sense you can say that the GMO is not any good, but you would
not even have a market in Japan without GMO papaya," said Gonsalves.
Canada, Hawai'i and the U.S. Mainland remain big buyers of genetically
modified papayas. There are no requirements that genetically modified
foods be labeled as such. In Hawai'i, the Kapoho variety of papaya is
not genetically modified, while the Rainbow variant is.
With all the challenges facing papaya, the fruit's rank among major
Hawaiian crops is slipping. In 2004, algae, which is used as a
nutritional supplement, displaced papaya as the state's eighth largest
commodity with sales of $12.6 million. Papaya was pushed down to ninth
place with sales of $12.3 million.
State officials are still urging Japan to accept genetically modified
papayas. Meanwhile, some people downplay the ban's impact.
"We don't have to get into Japan, if we can get into the U.S.," said
Stephanie Whalen, president of the the Hawaii Agriculture Research
Center, which provides seeds for genetically modified papaya trees.
Hawai'i's efforts to expand its share of the Mainland market for papaya
has been hampered by several factors including difficulties establishing
a genetically modified papaya seed production and payment program,
"The problem is we have small industries that are very difficult to
organize," she said. "There's a whole education and learning process
that has to grow and develop."
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