Aloha, genetically engineered papaya. Goodbye, Papaya sales

Feature story - May 26, 2006
The island of Hawaii'i, also known as the Big Island. An island filled with contrasts - lush tropical rain forests, grassy rolling hills, dry deserts, sunny beaches and snow capped volcanic peaks alluring and exotic tropical island. And the world's largest open-air genetic engineering laboratory.

Greenpeace activists deliver thousands of contaminated papayas to authorities in Thailand.

The Big Island contains the world's greatest concentration of climate types in one relatively small area. Hawaii has 11 of the world's 13 climate zones in just over 4000 square miles of terrain. In the midst of this beauty agro-chemical conglomerates have exploited this special place.  

Hawaii has run more than 4,000 GE field trials to date -- more  than any other location in the world per square metre.  Corn, soy, wheat, sugarcane (biopharmaceuticals), orchids, lime tree, sorgum, cotton, barley and coffee have all been exploited in GE field trials by a well-funded and greedy agro-chemical industry.   

Only one GE crop is approved for commercial purposes: the Papaya. A new report by Greenpeace demonstrates how it has devastated the Hawaiian export market.

Graph of Papaya market decline

Papaya - fruit with a long history, uncertain future

Papaya has been grown in tropical regions of the world for as long as history has been recorded. This brightly coloured and unique fruit that we have enjoyed for centuries is under threat, in Hawaii successful papaya growing and stable export markets were flourishing up until the commercialisation of genetically engineered papaya in 1998. Then things changed. Several years after the GE industry got control over papaya farmers and the papaya they grow the export market for Hawaiian papaya flatlined.

Hawaii is the only place in the world where GE Papaya is grown commercially and most of the countries importing Hawaii papaya - including the EU, Japan and China - have an aversion to GE crops and foods. Doors started closing on Hawaii's papaya exports and prices went into free fall. Organic and conventional farmers were earning up to three times as much for their GE-free papayas. But the organic exports  are on the downturn now as well,  as it is harder to guarantee GE-free fruit due to contamination from neighbouring GE strains.

"GE papayas are a big issue on this island, science put them here and now with the help of volunteers and local farmers we are taking them away," said Terri Mulroy, organic papaya farmer on Hawaii Island commenting from a recent decontamination event at her farm. "Once the GE papayas are removed I will be happy again and hope that all of my remaining papayas are GE-free."

Will Thailand learn from Hawaii's mistakes?

In Thailand, Thais will invite you to partake in one of their favourite foods - somtam - the green papaya salad eaten daily throughout the country.

This traditional dish and Thailand's own papaya export markets are under threat from the US GE papaya industry as they stretch their tentacles into South East Asia.

Thai papaya farmers tainted by GE

Although GE Papaya has not been commercialised in Thailand and a three-year freeze on the growing of all GE crops has been achieved, Thai farmers and industries are facing mounting pressure by the US agro-chemical companies, which could threaten these bans. Already, due to a Thai Government agency's role in the illegal distribution of GE-contaminated papaya seeds, contamination issues for conventional and organic growers is an ongoing problem.

We don't want it

Thailand has an existing ban on the planting and sale of GE crops, but this has been under constant assault from the agro-chemical industry, led mainly by US interests. The GE papaya which caused the ongoing contamination of Thai farms was developed by the same scientist who introduced Hawaii's problematic GE papaya.

"The Thai Government has attempted to lift the genetic engineering ban under pressure from the US government and the agro-chemical industry. However, Thais oppose GE crops because we don't want to lose the market for our farm crops, like what happened to Hawaiian papayas, as well as our status as the world's kitchen," said Patwajee Srisuwan

The Hawaiian and Thai Governments and industry need to pull back from this economically, environmentally, and export-damaging technology. They need to look closely at the evidence provided from both regions and then move towards supporting and nurturing the conventional and organic papaya growers upon whom, ultimately, the burden of GE contamination will fall.

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