GE papaya in the dock in Thailand court case

Feature story - 1 June, 2006
The trial of two Greenpeace activists at the Bangkok Criminal Court closed today with the activists facing three criminal counts and up to five years jail time if convicted. Their alleged crime? Exposing the role of the Thai Department of Agriculture (DOA) in the illegal sale and distribution of GE papaya.

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

In 2004, Greenpeace revealed the DOA GE papaya field trials in their Khon Khan research station was the source of widespread genetic contamination and that the department had illegally distributed GE contaminated seeds to 2,669 farmers in 37 provinces.

The DOA refused to act and clean up the GE contamination so the activists decontaminated one of the sites themselves, the very job that the DOA should have been doing.

Instead of praising the efforts of the activists in cleaning up the contamination, DOA officials sued the Greenpeace activists, Ms Patwajee Srisuwan, a Greenpeace campaigner, and Dr Jiragorn Gajaseni, former Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, hoping to intimidate and silence them.

On the final day of testimony, Melanie Bondera, a papaya farmer from the Big Island of Hawaii, told the court about experiences of massive GE papaya contamination in her home state and its widespread effects. She told the court of the loss of income after GE papaya was released and the continued economic and environmental threats GE posed to Hawaii.

"To us farmers, GE papaya brought more negative impacts than positive. Farmers could not grow the same crops if GE organisms are found in their farm, and therefore lose their livelihood. Also farmers in Hawaii weren't able to export their papayas to Japan anymore," said Melanie.

Hawaii, the only place in the world where GE papaya has been grown commercially, has now damaged its export markets and organic and conventional growers have suffered due to GE contamination. Hawaii exports were flourishing until the introduction of GE papaya in 1998. Most of the countries importing papaya from Hawaii including the EU, Japan, and China have rejected GE crops and foods. Once GE contamination started in Hawaii, the doors quickly closed on Hawaii's papaya exports.

Whilst Thailand has an existing ban on the planting and sale of genetically engineered crops, this ban has been under constant assault from the agro-chemical industry, which is trying to make GE inroads into Thailand's lucrative non-GE agriculture market.

"Genetic pollution caused by GE organisms has irreversible effects on the environment, therefore we must stop the widening GE papaya contamination in our country. The Constitution empowers every Thai citizen the right to protect our environment," said Patwajee.

It has been over a year since the criminal charges of theft, trespassing and destruction of property were lodged against the Greenpeace activists. The GE court trial ended on the 30 May with a verdict on the court case expected towards the end of this year.

A Greenpeace South East Asia report "Contamination by Genetically Engineered Papaya in Thailand" gives an overview of the GE papaya scandal.

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