A roadside stall selling papaya.
Papaya is a staple food in some parts of South-East Asia. It is
a vital part of the Thai kitchen and features in famous local Thai
dishes such as Som Tam, a spicy papaya salad.
Why play with nature's green papaya?
Papaya grown on monoculture plantations, as is the practice on
the island of Hawaii, the United States' 50th State, suffer from
ringspot virus. Plant diseases and pests flourish in these
unnatural, intensive plantations.
farmers traditionally combat ringspot by growing papaya with other
crops. The insects that transmit the virus are controlled with
environmentally friendly techniques. GE papaya is, therefore, an
unnecessary solution to a problem that can be controlled
Rather than advocating a change in farming practices to deal
with the virus, scientists decided that playing with nature was the
A science based on luck
They decided to make the plant resistant to the virus by adding
a gene from the virus to the papaya cell, along with other virus
and antibiotic resistance genes. In tampering with evolution, you
might expect that at least the scientists know what they are doing.
But apparently they have no idea how the virus gene actual makes
the papaya resistant to the virus. Not only this, but the
scientists have also said that they could not control which type of
papaya to make into GE papaya because it's a random process, based
Lucky for whom?
years after the GE papaya strain 'Sun Up' was approved in Hawaii,
scientists have discovered that it is actually more susceptible to
other plant diseases such as 'blackspot' fungus. Now the blackspot
fungus is spreading among GE papaya in Hawaii. So the scientists'
luck in getting Sun Up to become GE is bad luck for farmers who now
have a new disease problem. Farmers who grow GE papaya must spray
toxic chemical fungicides on their papaya every 10 days.
Spreading the seeds of disaster to Thailand
The Thai authorities, along with those backing GE papaya (like
Monsanto, which holds several GMO papaya patents), are rushing
through the GE papaya's introduction in Thailand without adequate
testing. Are they rushing because GE papaya is so beneficial? Not
according to the farmers who have been growing it in Hawaii.
No market for GE papaya
GMO papaya was introduced 5 years ago they claimed it was a
'solution' to the papaya ringspot virus problem. But instead it has
caused serious environmental and economic problems for farmers,"
said Melanie Bondera, a sustainable agriculture farmer and member
of the Hawaii Genetic Engineering Action Network (HIGEAN) on Big
When they started growing GE papaya, Hawaiian farmers lost their
biggest export markets, with devastating results. The selling price
of GMO papaya fell to 30-40 percent below production costs, and the
price that farmers now get for their GMO papaya is 600 percent
lower than the price for organic papaya.
Corporate control of the food chain
The patent holders "act like God - they have way too much power
over nature", said Mike, a farmer sued for unwittingly growing GE
papaya without an official agreement.
Farmers growing GE papaya must follow the rules of those who
hold the patents to the GE papaya - in Thailand that's
transnational corporations and overseas universities. And there are
up to 20 US and international patents that could be applied to GE
papaya in Thailand, including patents held by the GE giant,
What this means in practice is that seeds cannot be saved or
exchanged and farmers can be sued if their crops become
contaminated by GE papaya.
Hawaii, many organic farmers' papaya trees were contaminated by GE
- by pollen from neighbouring GE papaya trees, or when GE papaya
seeds got mixed in with organic seeds. They were forced to destroy
all their papaya trees.
"These guys own the wind", said one farmer commenting on the
corporate interests behind GE papaya and its contamination of
conventional and organic papaya.
The 'Papaya Freedom Fighters'
As if that weren't enough, three years ago an attempt was made
to destroy all non-GE papaya trees in Hawaii. Fortunately the
farmers realised that the real aim behind the plans was to force
them all farmers to grow GE papaya. They formed the 'Papaya Freedom
Fighters' and stopped the destruction of their crops.
It's not too late for Thailand
The consequences of growing GE papaya in Thailand are feared to
be even more serious than Hawaii. Not only is green papaya eaten as
a daily staple food, it is also grown everywhere - in farmers'
fields, schoolyards and backyard gardens.
"The message that the Hawaiian farmers bring to us...is clear:
we must not allow GE papaya to be released into the environment.
It's not too late. We must act now to say no to GE papaya," said
Varoonvarn Svansopakul, GE Campaigner for Greenpeace.