GE papaya scandal in Thailand

Illegal GE seeds found in packages sold by Department of Agriculture

Feature story - 27 July, 2004
We warned the Thai government over a year ago not to play with genetically engineered (GE) papaya but they didn't listen. Although trials of the engineered food crop are banned, it seems they couldn't resist having a go themselves. Now they have left the whole country's papaya crop wide open to contamination.

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

Independent laboratory tests carried out in Hong Kong showed that packages of papaya seeds being sold by the Department of Agriculture's research station in the province of Khon Kaen contained GE seeds. We identified one of the fields at the research station as the source of the GE seeds. It turns out that the experimental field was only segregated from the other papaya by barbed wire and banana trees.

"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, our GE campaigner in Southeast Asia. "This is the hard evidence we needed to prove that GE contamination has broken in Thailand."

Thai activists sealed off the GE papaya at the agricultural research station of the Department of Agriculture. Dressed in protective suits they removed the GE papaya fruit from the trees then secured them in hazardous material containers. They also 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.

"The purpose of the ban on field trials imposed in 2001 was to prevent GE contamination. 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 we warned the Thai public of the environmental and health risks posed by GE papaya and called on the government to stop all planting of the crop anywhere in the country. We also pointed to Hawaii as an example of GE papaya gone wrong.

When GE papaya was introduced into Hawaii the biotech industry said it was a 'solution' to the papaya ringspot virus problem. But instead it has caused serious environmental and economic problems for 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.

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 gardens.

"We've been calling for an end to this genetic experiment on the grounds that genetically modified organisms (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."

Increased Contamination

Our campaigners in Thailand have revealed that genetically engineered (GE) papaya has been grown for at least 12 months on a farm in the province of Khon Kaen in a widening GE contamination scandal.

Independent laboratory test results dated 24 June 2004 show that the fruit of a papaya tree on a local farmer's land is GE. The GE papaya tree is 12 months old and was grown from papaya seeds purchased from the government research station in June 2003.

"All farmers who have purchased papaya seeds from the research station have a right to know whether GE papaya trees are growing on their land and whether their families are already eating GE papaya. Farmers such as this one is a victim of the environmental crime committed by the Department of Agriculture, " said Jiragorn Gajaseni, Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

Click here to see a map showing the spread of contamination in Thailand.

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