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[SANET-MG] GM papaya
Pollen flow from GM papaya is so widespread that it prevents organic
production over a wide area. USDA, which patents GM papaya, has like any
other corporation , aggressively promoted the GM pollution of its product.
Hawaiian papaya: market loss and contamination
By MELANIE BONDERA
Why do creators of the genetically-engineered (GE) papaya fruit have to
push so hard to introduce it? If the GE papaya is really a simple
solution to a major agricultural disease that farmers want, it would be
readily adopted by governments, farmers and markets. However, it is not.
The concern over this genetically modified orgnanism (GMO) food is so
great, that it creates resistance, loss of markets, contamination and
more loss of markets. In Thailand, the government has a ban on field
trials and hasn't commercially released the papaya after almost a decade
of testing. Farmers have shown resistance and expressed concern that the
European Union and Japan don't want to import the GM papaya.
In Jamaica, the GM papaya was never commercially released after many
years of field trials as the primary export market is the EU, which does
not tolerate GM papaya. In Venezuela, field trials were cancelled after
a medical doctor advised the public against eating GM papaya. Attempts
to release the GM papaya in such diverse places as Mexico, Australia,
Taiwan and Brazil have all been thwarted by governments and farmers who
fear market loss and contamination.
In Hawaii, despite a major epidemic of ring spot virus, it took heavy
pressure and combating farmer resistance to introduce the GM papaya. The
University of Hawaii and the US Department of Agriculture could have
aggressively educated or required the farmers in the Puna growing area
on the island of Hawaii to chop down and burn all virus-infected trees.
The reduction of the virus would have kept the disease at its usual
endemic levels and not allowed it to reach the epidemic. Farmers could
also have been advised not to grow in huge plantations, to intercrop, to
use soil amendments to grow healthier trees, plant trap-crops for the
aphid vector, and spray or spread silicates to block aphid penetration
of leaves. The amount of time and money to do this would have been far
less than the efforts to force the introduction of the GM papaya.
In order to get the GM papaya introduced, the big papaya packing
companies who ship to Japan, Hawaii's most lucrative papaya market, had
asked the legislature to require the University of Hawaii to
aggressively educate the little papaya farmers who ring the big farms
(who sell non-GM fruit to Japan) to chop down their trees and plant GM
trees. These large, powerful growers didn't want to grow GM papaya. They
wanted the little farmers to be the buffer zone to protect them from the
virus. This caused the little farmers to form a group called the Papaya
Freedom Fighters to fight this forced introduction of GM papaya. There
were close to 200 papaya farmers in the main growing area at the time of
introduction and 150 members of the Papaya Freedom Fighters at their
peak. This group experienced various kinds of threats from the forces
introducing the GM papaya.
From 1998, the commercial release of the GM papaya in Hawaii until now,
we've lost half of our papaya farmers. The primary reason is the GM
papaya has never been worth as much as the non-GM fruit. Our biggest
loss is much of the Japanese market. They were 60% of Hawaii's market at
the time of the introduction of the GM papaya and they slammed the door
shut on GMOs. Despite government assurances, they have never reopened
that in seven years. Even if they did, consumer rejection in food
contamination-sensitive Japan is almost assured.
Canada shut down their market. They reopened it five years later to GM
papaya, but it remains a small sliver of our market. Some GM papayas go
to the US mainland, but that market is primarily held by Mexico and
Brazil. Most GM papayas are dumped on the local market here in Hawaii,
Marketing GM papayas in Hawaii unlabelled, has been the biggest source
of contamination. The proponents of the GM papaya like to focus the
discussion of contamination issues around pollen. This is a diversionary
tactic. Each genetically modified papaya, purchased and eaten, leaves
100-500 GM seeds to be thrown out into our environmentally-planted
areas. To legally farm GM papaya, you have to buy the seed from the
university, sign a contract and watch a video on buffer zones to prevent
pollen escape. Most consumers have accidentally planted many more, just
by eating papaya for breakfast regularly.
GMO Free Hawaii began testing papayas in 2003 for farmers and gardeners
who didn't want GM papayas and consistently found 30-50% GM contaminated
papayas in places they shouldn't be. In 2004, GMO Free Hawaii did a
pilot Contamination Study to bring to light this contamination and call
for further in-depth studies. With independent PCR testing, we found 50%
contamination on the island within the major growing area, 5%
contamination on Oahu and the University of Hawaii's seed supply
contaminated at 1%.
Organic farmers started testing and were shocked to find contamination
on their farms. This led to market loss and often the chopping down of
trees in efforts to decontaminate. Toi Lahti lost three separate markets
and his seed line, which he'd been developing for 17 years. GMO are not
allowed in organic production in the US. Many organic farmers are
choosing to grow other crops as it is no longer possible to grow organic
papaya in Hawaii.
The farmers and big papaya packers who still sell non-GM papaya to
Japan, have to spend a lot of time and labour testing papayas to prove
they are not contaminated. Each tree and each shipment need testing and
the Department of Agriculture verifies by testing 1% of each of those.
This is a fragile system which still allows for some GM-contaminated
fruits and many GM-contaminated seeds to get through.
Japan may at any point lose patience with this contamination and look
for papayas from another country which has protected its growing areas
from the rampant GM contamination of papaya that we have here in Hawaii.
Melanie Bondera is a farmer on Kanalani Ohana Farm, on the Big Island of
Hawaii. She works with GMO Free Hawaii on the problems of GM papaya in
By Bangkok Post On 27 April 2006
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