GE Papaya Tree Scandal In Thailand

Illegal GE seeds found in packages sold by Department of Agriculture
SOURCE: Greenpeace
http://www.greenpeace.org/news/details?item_id=547563
DATE: 27 Jul 2004

GE papaya scandal in Thailand
Illegal GE seeds found in packages sold by Department of Agriculture

THAILAND/Khon Kaen - 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.

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."