GMO papaya scandal in Thailand

Illegal GMO seeds found in packages sold by Department of Agriculture

Press release - 27 July, 2004
Greenpeace, today, sealed off an experimental field of genetically engineered (GE) papaya at the agricultural research station of the Department of Agriculture in the province of Khon Kaen, declaring it the source of genetic contamination of one of the country's most important staple foods.

Greenpeace Thai activists seal off the GE papaya at the Khon Kaen agricultural research station of the Department of Agriculture.

Greenpeace activists dressed in protective suits began removing the GE papaya fruit from the trees and securing them in hazardous material containers inside the field trial site. Greenpeace demanded that the government complete this process and immediately destroy all papaya trees, fruit, seedlings, and seeds in the Khon Kaen research station to prevent further contamination.

"This is potentially one of the worst cases of genetic contamination of a major food crop in Asia as this station is one of the largest suppliers of papaya seeds in the country," said Varoonvarn Svangsopakul, Genetic Engineering campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia. "We have suspected that the field trials of GE Khak Dam and Khak Nuan papaya varieties (1) posed a risk of contamination. This is the hard evidence we needed to prove that GE contamination has broken in Thailand."

Independent laboratory tests (2) have shown that packages of papaya seeds being sold by the Department of Agriculture's own research station contain GMO seeds. The experimental field, surrounded only by barbed wire and banana trees, was identified by Greenpeace as the source of GMO seeds.

"The purpose of the ban on field trials imposed in 2001 was to prevent GE contamination (3. But we now have proof that not only has this ban failed, but the Department of Agriculture itself has committed a crime that threatens an essential food with widespread contamination," said Svangsopakul.

Last year, Greenpeace warned the Thai public of the environmental and health risks posed by GMO papaya and called on the government to stop all planting of GMO papaya anywhere in the country (4).

"Since the GE papaya contains a gene from the ringspot virus, there is a risk that when it is infected with other viruses it can produce new virus strains," said Dr Janet Cotter, a Greenpeace scientist based in the United Kingdom. "In terms of human health risks, the build-up of antibiotic resistance is also a concern."

"We've been calling for an end to this genetic experiment on the grounds that GMOs are uncontrollable. There can no longer be any doubt that this is true. And the government must take action to stop this experiment now," said Jiragorn Gajaseni, Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia. "The government must act now to impose a total ban on GE field trials, including those in government restricted areas and experimental stations, and must launch an investigation into this environmental crime."

Notes: 1)Khak Dam and Khak Nuan are local papaya varieties of Thailand and are considered a staple food crop. Ten years ago, the Department of Agriculture researchers took these local papaya varieties to Cornell University in the US to developed genetically engineered versions. See Greenpeace briefing; http://www.greenpeace.org/international_en/multimedia/download/1/290394/0/papaya_unknown_plant.pdf2)Tests were conducted by GeneScan (HongKong) Ltd, www.genescan.com3)In July 2001 the Thai government imposed a ban on GE field trials in response to public outrage concerning the widespread contamination caused by Bt Cotton field trials in Thailand4)Greenpeace released the briefing paper "Precaution Before Profits: GE field trials put our environment, food and fields at risk", in June 2003.