Hawaiian farmers warn Thai farmers about genetically engineered papaya: Don't do it!

Press release - 3 July, 2003

Hawaiian farmer Melanie Bondera (2nd right) tells Thai farmers about economic and environmental losses resulting from GE papaya planting.

A delegation of Hawaiian farmers today met with Thai farmers and community organisations warning Thailand against growing genetically engineered (GE) papaya. In an event organised by Greenpeace, the Hawaiian farmers pointed out that although the previous introduction of GE papaya had been disastrous both economically and environmentally, old promotional arguments are now used in Thailand without sharing the negative evidence.

When GE 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 Island, Hawaii.

The rejection of GE papaya in overseas markets has been devastating for Hawaiian farmers. The selling price of GE papaya has fallen to 30-40 percent below production costs, and the price that farmers get for their GE papaya is 600 percent lower than the price for organic papaya.

Farmers have also discovered that 'SunUp' GE papaya is more easily infected by new plant fungi and diseases like 'blackspot' fungus. This discovery came 5 years after GE papaya was approved for commercial growing. Now farmers must spray toxic chemical fungicides on their SunUp papaya plants every 10 days.

Bondera described the anger and frustration of organic farmers who were forced to cut down all of their papaya plants because of contamination by GE papaya. GE papaya seed has contaminated seed supplies and cross-pollination of non-GE plants is widespread.

"Tests have shown that GE contamination is widespread. Genetic pollution is a clear violation of farmers' rights to choose what they grow and how they grow it," she added.

While GE papaya was proving a disaster in Hawaii, the same US scientists and companies worked with Thailand's Department of Agriculture and the Department of Science & Technology to develop GE papaya in Thailand. Backed by the global GE industry giant, Monsanto, which holds several patents on GE papaya, open-air field trials of GE papaya were carried out in several locations throughout Thailand. Now these corporate-sponsored scientists say that GE papaya is 'safe' and is ready for commercial growing by farmers.

"The developers of GE papaya are saying that it's ready for commercial release in Thailand. But the message from Hawaii is very clear: GE papaya is an ecological disaster," said Varoonvarn Svansopakul, Genetic Engineering Campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

The consequences of growing GE papaya in Thailand are feared to be even more serious Hawaii. Not only is green papaya eaten as a daily staple food, it is also grown everywhere - in farmers' fields, schoolyards and backyard gardens.

"That means the kind of GE contamination seen in Hawaii will be multiplied a hundred-fold, and there's no way that seed contamination or cross-pollination can be prevented," Varoonvarn added.

These concerns were reinforced by Dr.Janet Cotter, Greenpeace scientist in the United Kingdom. Speaking at today's public event, Dr Cotter presented the findings of a scientific report on the potential ecological and health risks of GE papaya.

"Even those scientists who developed GE papaya recognise that GE contamination of non-GE papaya is inevitable. Once it's out there, it's out of control," said Dr Cotter. "The fact is that GE is a crude and imprecise technology, subject to unexpected and unpredictable effects. In the case of GE papaya scientists aren't even sure why it has resistance to the ringspot virus, or whether this creates new ecological risks. This includes the risk of new strains of the virus that would have a lasting impact on the environment."

Also addressing Thai farmers and community organisations was Jon Biloon, a farmer with 30 years' experience of sustainable agricultural farming in Big Island, Hawaii.

Biloon argues that GE papaya is unnecessary.

"There are practical solutions to ringspot virus that are friendly to the environment and better for farmers. This makes GE papaya totally unnecessary," Biloon said. Biloon has developed an organic system to deal with ringspot virus and is organising training workshops and helping other farmers to introduce ecologically sustainable methods for managing plant diseases like ringspot.

"The message that the Hawaiian farmers bring to us today 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," Varoonvarn concluded.

Related documents and reports

Genetically engineered papaya - unkown plant

Precaution Before Profits - GE field trials put our environment, food and fields at risk.

Patented papaya - Extending control over food & fields

Related stories

The scent of GE papaya.

Brazil's golden opportunity: staying GE-free

The ingredients are hidden, but the companies can't hide

GE industry breaking farmers backs

VVPR info: Arthur Jones Dionio, Regional Media Campaigner, Tel: +66 (0)1 9254835 or Greenpeace Southeast Asia office Tel: + 66 02 2727100, Fax: 02 2714342.