Thailand: Contra GMO-papaya Activists may go to Jail

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Thailand: Contra GMO-papaya Activists may go to Jail

Papaya is grown in almost every backyard and is a staple food in some parts of Southeast Asia. It is a vital part of the Thai kitchen and features in famous Thai dishes such as Som Tam, a spicy papaya salad. Large numbers of people in Thailand grow the fruit, and were worried when the Thai government began to experiment with genetically engineered (GE) strains.

Hawaiian papaya disaster

Their worry was well founded. Commercial plantings of GE papaya in Hawaii had been disastrous for organic papaya growers. The selling price of GE papaya fell to 30-40 percent below production costs, and the price that farmers got for their GE papaya in 2003 was 600 percent lower than the price for organic papaya. Japan screens to ensure no GE papaya enters the market, and it is illegal in many countries.

The government approved experimental plantings at a number of research stations regardless.

Greenpeace discovers contamination

On 24 June 2004, we received test results showing that the fruit of a papaya tree on a local farmer's land had been genetically engineered. The GE papaya tree was 12 months old and had been grown from papaya seeds purchased from the government research station at Khon Kaen in June 2003. Sale of GE seeds is illegal in Thailand.

In July of 2004, Pat and Jay took this story public when they acted as spokespersons for Greenpeace activists who sealed off GE papaya in experimental fields at the Khon Kaen research station "the source of GE papaya contamination in the region. The activists, dressed in protective suits, removed GE papaya fruit from trees and secured them in hazardous material containers.

Pat and Jay call for destruction of test field

Pat and Jay appeared on television and in print demanding that the government complete the process begun by the activists and immediately destroy all papaya trees, fruit, seedlings, and seeds in the research station to prevent further contamination. The story became one of the biggest scandals in Thailand. They were charged with theft, trespassing and destruction of property.

No charges were made against the officials at the research station, who threatened to rob papaya farmers of their livelihoods by contaminating their crop, whose seeds trespassed into the fields of farmers who didn't want them, and whose error led to the contamination of papaya which then had to be destroyed.

Almost two months after Greenpeace took action against the contamination, the government acknowledged that a plantation 4 kms from the research station had been contaminated, and destroyed the farmer's papaya.

Greenpeace was proven right.

The government collected samples from 2,345 plantations in 35 provinces. They admitted that 24 plantations had been contaminated.

Government destroys test field

On September 15th, 2004, the government destroyed the GE papaya in the research station's experimental field. Thus, they fulfilled their civic duty by completing the job that the Greenpeace team had begun. Instead of getting to the bottom of who precisely was responsible for the contamination, the very department that was responsible for the contamination decided to take legal action against Pat and Jay.

Shutting down opposition

These charges are not about the events of July 27th, 2004: they're about preventing future events of this nature. This story is about putting a chill on further protest against GE crops in Thailand. It's about making examples of a journalist and an ecology professor who dared to speak up, and throw them in jail for it. At stake is the entire nature of civil society in one of the most developed countries of Southeast Asia.

Take Action!

Don't stand by and let Jay and Pat go to jail for doing the job their government was supposed to do. Send a message to the Prime Minister of Thailand demanding the Thailand Papaya Activists go free, and the perpetrators of the crime be prosecuted instead.