GMO Trial: American farmer tells court of losses due to GMO papaya

Feature story - May 30, 2006
A farmer from Hawaii testified at the Bangkok Criminal Court as Thailand’s historic court case on genetically modified organisms (GMO) draws to a close today. Two Greenpeace activists are facing three criminal counts -- and up to five years in jail if convicted -- for exposing the role of the Department of Agriculture (DOA) in the illegal sale and distribution of GMO papaya.

Patwajee Srisuwan, campigner of Greenpeace, shows the picture of seeds sold by the DOA’s research station in Khon Kaen which tested positive for tetracycline resistance. Tetracycline is a broad-spectrum antibiotic used to treat infections.(Greenpeace/Sataporn Thongma)

Melanie Bondera, who comes from the Big Island of Hawaii, told the court about experiences of massive GMO papaya contamination in her home state and its uncontrollable effects. She also said this led to income losses and continues to pose as economic and environmental threats to Hawaii.

 

Hawaii is considered a contamination hot spot with the most GMO field trials per square mile in the world and the only place where GMO papaya is grown commercially. Hawaii exports were flourishing until the introduction of genetically engineered papaya in 1998. Most of the countries importing papaya from Hawaii including the EU, Japan, and China have an aversion to GMO crops and foods. Doors then started closing on Hawaii's papaya exports.

 

“To us farmers, GMO papaya brought more negative impacts than positive. Farmers could not sell non-GMO papaya if it is GMO-contaminated, and therefore lose their markets and possibly their livelihood.  Farmers in Hawaii cannot export GMO papayas or GMO-contaminated papayas to,” said Melanie.

 

In 2004, Greenpeace revealed that DOA’s Khon Kaen research station was the source of GMO contamination and had illegally distributed GMO-contaminated seeds to 2,669 farmers in 37 provinces.  DOA officials sued Ms Patwajee Srisuwan, a Greenpeace campaigner, and Dr Jiragorn Gajaseni, former Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, in hopes of intimidating them.

 

In his testimony on May 23, 2006, Banthoon Setsirote, an official from the National Human Rights Commission, recalled that after a fact-finding trip to Khon Kaen in August 2004, the NHRC recommended to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra that all field trials on GMO papaya be discontinued and the papaya trees in those experimental plots be destroyed. This led to the Agricultural Minister’s order in September 2004 to destroy GMO papaya in field trial plots at DOA’s research station. GMO-contamination did not end there, however. The NHRC received more complaints and reports that GMO papaya were discovered in farms in many other provinces, prompting a second fact-finding trip in July 2005. Samples from papaya trees in Rayong, Mahasarakham, Chaiyapum and Kalasin turned out to be GMO-contaminated.

 

Thais continue to be under threat from the ongoing GMO papaya contamination. In his testimony on May 24, 2006, Dr Jongrak Kittiworakarn of Mahidol University warned of possible risks associated with GMO papaya due to the presence of antibiotic (tetracycline) resistant genes which contradicts the standards of the World Health Organization and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO/WHO Codex). (1)

 

It has been over a year since the criminal charges of theft, trespassing and destruction of property were lodged against the Greenpeace activists. The GMO court trial ends today with a verdict expected to be handed down towards the end of the year.

 

Greenpeace is an independent, campaigning organisation which uses non-violent, creative confrontation to expose global environmental problems, and to drive solutions essential to a green and peaceful future. Greenpeace has been at the forefront of decontamination efforts around the world, assisting farmers in Thailand, Hawaii and Philippines to rid their farms of GMOs which do not have proper assessment for either human food safety or environmental risks.

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