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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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.