Unsafe GE papaya seedlings distributed by Hong Kong Government

Greenpeace calls for strict GE food labelling now

Press release - 2006-03-13
Greenpeace food safety patrols today helped an organic farmer remove all genetically engineered (GE) papayas growing in his field and prevented further GE contamination by these plants. The seedlings of this GE papaya were distributed by the Hong Kong Government last year. Some of the unsafe fruits have already been sold in the market. Because of food safety reasons, this species was not approved anywhere of the world.

Greenpeace food safety patrol activists help an organic farmer to remove all GE papaya trees and other contaminated papayas from his organic farm.

Greenpeace food safety patrol activists help an organic farmer to remove all GE papaya trees and other contaminated papayas from his organic farm.

Greenpeace food safety patrol activists help an organic farmer to remove all GE papaya trees and other contaminated papayas from his organic farm.

Greenpeace food safety patrol activists help an organic farmer to remove all GE papaya trees and other contaminated papayas from his organic farm.

Greenpeace urged the Health, Welfare and Food Bureau of Hong Kong to implement the Biosafety Protocol now and stop these unsafe GMOs from threatening human health.

Knowing recently that the Hong Kong Government distributed GE papaya seedlings to local farmers, including organic farmers, Greenpeace food safety patrols immediately visited the related fields and collected fruit and leaf samples for laboratory testing.  Results showed that GE ingredients were found.  The origin, detailed DNA sequence and the characteristics of the engineered gene are still unknown.

This unknown GE papaya is not approved for commercialisation anywhere of the world and did not pass any long-term safety assessments.  There are potential health risks by human consumption.

Last year local farmers received the papaya seedlings from the Hong Kong Government and started planting in their farms.  Some papaya fruits were harvested and sold in the market.  In December 2005 and early 2006, some farmers received a letter from the Government notifying them that the papayas they were planting were "very probably GE".  Investigations by Greenpeace showed that there are at least 100 suspected GE papaya trees located in Kam Tin and Fanling, not counting those already removed.

"The Health, Welfare and Food Bureau ignored the potential danger of GE to food safety and spread unsafe GE food to the farms and even the food chain.  The Secretary Dr. York Chow Yat-ngok puts Hong Kong citizens' health at risk!" said Fung Ka-keung, food and agriculture campaigner of Greenpeace China.

"The food safety system in Hong Kong would not be such a mess if the Government had implemented strict control and labelling system on GE food," added Fung.

Greenpeace demands that the Government investigates the situation, helps farmers destroy the unknown GE papayas and prevent further GE contamination.

In 1999, Greenpeace started campaigning for strict GE food regulations and mandatory labelling in Hong Kong.  The Health, Welfare and Food Bureau is however dragging its feet and rejected Hong Kong citizens' demands for a mandatory labelling system[1]. "The Government ignores the risks of GE and therefore fails to provide necessary guidelines and resources for the frontline officials and farmers to prevent GE contamination.  The Bureau should bear the biggest responsibility for this incident" stated Fung.

The victims caused by the Government's ignorance of GE food issue are not limited to consumers, but also the organic farmers who intend to produce healthy and unpolluted food.  "The appearance of GE crops is similar to traditional ones but the GE crops can bring unknown risks to the farms and the environment.  The Government should take precautionary procedures now to ensure that the organic farmers can get clean and non-GE seedlings."

The Biosafety Protocol is an international treaty that uses precautionary principle to tackle the potential risks caused by GE.  In 2003, the Hong Kong Government announced that the Government would extend the application of Biosafety Protocol to Hong Kong.  The Health, Welfare and Food Bureau's failure of preventing GE papaya from contaminating the environment and food chain shows a serious violation of the Protocol.

It was noted that the implementation of Biosafety Protocol and the legislation is currently handled by the Environment, Transport and Works Bureau, led by Dr. Sarah Liao. Dr. York Chow's Health, Welfare and Food Bureau, however, does not involve in the process at all.  The legislation proposal is also being criticized for being too loose and not covering food safety issues.

"Dr. Chow should stop the bureaucratic culture now and involve in the legislation process of Biosafety Protocol now.  We need mandatory GE food labelling now," said Fung.

Notes:

[1] Surveys conducted by the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies of CUHK and commissioned by Greenpeace in 1999, 2002 and 2004 show that 90% of respondents demand for a GE food labelling system. In 2000 and 2003, the Legislative Council passed two motions by the majority vote to demand for a mandatory GE food labelling system. The Hong Kong Government rejected the demands.

Categories