Organic Consumers Association

OCA
Homepage

Previous Page

Click here to print this page

Make a Donation!

JOIN THE OCA NETWORK!

Hawaii Reports Widespread Contamination of Papaya Crop by GE Varieties

Press Release: New Research Reveals Widespread GMO Contamination and Threats
to Local Agriculture From the World's First Commercially Planted Genetically
Engineered Tree

News Release: Embargo 00:01 September 9 2004

Contact: Melanie Bondera, Hawaii GEAN +1 808 640-1643 or Noli Hoye,
GMO-Free Kauai +1 808 651-9603

New Research Reveals Widespread GMO Contamination and Threats to
Local Agriculture From the World's First Commercially Planted
Genetically Engineered Tree

Outraged Farmers, Consumers and Backyard Papaya Growers Return
Contaminated Papayas to the University of Hawaii in Crop Dump

Hilo, Hawaii -- Independent laboratory testing results released today
reveal widespread contamination from the world's first commercially
planted genetically engineered tree, the papaya, on Oahu, the Big
Island, and Kauai. Contamination was also found in the stock of
non-genetically engineered seeds being sold commercially by the
University of Hawaii.

Farmers, health professionals, concerned citizens, and University of
Hawaii scientists joined GMO-Free Hawaii in announcing the shocking
results of their research at the University of Hawaii, which created
and released the GMO papaya. Dozens of outraged farmers, consumers
and backyard growers brought their contaminated papayas back to the
university to underscore their demand that UH provide a plan for
cleaning up papaya contamination. The campaign also called for
liability protection for local growers and the prevention of GMO
contamination of other Hawaiian commodity crops.

All samples were tested by Genetic ID, one of the world's leading
scientific laboratories for genetic contamination testing. Composite
samples from the Big Island and Oahu both revealed GMO contamination.
Nearly 20,000 papaya seeds from across the Big Island, 80% of which
came from organic farms and the rest from backyard gardens or wild
trees, showed a contamination level of 50%. Oahu's composite of
papayas, primarily from organic farms, showed contamination of over
5%, and trace levels of contamination were found on an organic farm
on Kauai. One package of seed of the Solo Waimanalo papaya, a
non-genetically engineered variety purchased directly from the
University of Hawaii, also tested positive for GMO contamination.

"It is an outrage that UH is selling contaminated papaya seeds to
our local farmers and growers," said Toi Lahti, an organic farmer and
papaya grower from the Big Island. "Not only could organic farmers
lose their certification by growing genetically engineered papayas,
GMO papaya seeds are also patented by Monsanto among others. This
opens farmers to lawsuits for growing GMOs without paying patent fees
first, even if they planted them without their knowledge."

"These tests indicate that UH's non-GMO seed stock is contaminated,
and so there can be no doubt that the University must take immediate
action to protect farmers, con sumers and the environment," said Mark
Query of GMO-Free Hawaii. "Papaya contamination is a case study in
the threat that GMO contamination presents to local agriculture. It
is now obvious that coexistence of traditional and GMO crops is
impossible."

Farmers raised concerns about the impact the contamination crisis
could have on export markets, particularly to countries like Japan
that have stringent regulations about importing genetically
engineered crops. "The Big Island is home to most of the commercial
GMO papaya fields in the state," said Melanie Bondera, a farmer from
Kona and member of the Hawaii Genetic Engineering Action Network.
"The continued planting of GMO crops risk giving Hawaiian agriculture
an undeservedly bad reputation in major export markets around the
world."

Dr. Lorrin Pang, MD, MPH, a public health specialist, discussed
potential human health threats posed by the GMO papaya and other GMO
foods, inc luding increased antibiotic resistance and unexpected
allergenic reactions. "All of these concerns are troubling in
themselves, but they would be less worrisome if the GMO mutations did
not spread beyond our intentions. Today's report shows that they
do," Dr. Pang said. "If a health problem arises that is attributable
to GMO foods, it will be impossible to recall such a live, dangerous
mutation once it has been released into the environment."

Dr. Hector Valenzuela, a scientist specializing in tropical crops
from UH Manoa's Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences,
asserted that the University's focus on promoting genetic engineering
is steering Hawaiian agriculture in the wrong direction. "Instead of
supporting untested technologies like genetic engineering, the
University of Hawaii should redirect their resources to focus on
researching and promoting workable, non-GMO solutions to local
agricultural problems. Hawaii farmers need agricultural advances
that can protect their farms and our state's agricultural economy
over the long run."

Bondera outlined the campaign being launched by GMO-Free Hawaii based
on these contamination results. "Despite the problems local growers
have had with the GMO papaya, the University is now genetically
engineering taro, pineapple, banana, sugarcane, and other commodity
crops," said Bondera. "The problems with GMO papaya contamination
show us that there are too many unanswered questions about
agricultural biotech to be releasing new experimental genetically
engineered organisms into our environment. Hawaiian farmers want to
see an immediate moratorium on the release of other genetically
engineered commodity crops, and a commitment from the University to
fund research into local, sustainable agriculture."