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GE Contamination of Papayas in Hawaii & Thailand

>From <> 9/15/04

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

The island of Hawaii, which is a US state, has found that commercial growing
of GM papaya has led to widespread contamination of the organic and
traditional papaya industry. Meanwhile, in Thailand, papayas have also been
found to be widely contaminated with GM, even though transgenic varieties
are not yet commercially grown. The source of the contamination looks to be
the Thai Department of Agriculture¹s own Agriculture Research and
Development Office.

Hawaiian farmers who have found their industry threatened by GM, had earlier
warned Thailand not to go down the path of GM papayas. They told of the
inability to control cross-pollination, the weaker plant, its chemical
dependency, the lower prices it fetches, and the devastating loss to export
markets when Japan cancelled their contracts after Hawaii started to grow GM

As independent tests by Greenpeace and the Human Rights Commission revealed
contamination in Thailand, the government denied that any GM papayas were
being grown in the country. But they later admitted that there was
contamination, and declared that swift action, similar to that for plant
disease outbreaks, would be taken. It was reported that European importers
immediately cancelled orders for Thai papaya products, as the EU has a ban
on almost all GM food imports. Meanwhile, there is uncertainly over whether
Thai and Hawaiian farmers accidentally growing GM papaya will face punitive
fines from Monsanto for patent infringement, for unknowingly growing papayas
with the patented GM gene.

Best wishes,


1. Genetic Traits Spread to Non-Engineered Papayas in Hawaii
Article from Environment News Service. Date: 10 September 2004
2. Hawaiians Warn Against GM Papaya: Species' Introduction May Hit Native

Article from Bankok Post (Thailand). Date: 4 July 2004
Kultida Samabuddhi
3. Government Admission: GM Papaya Confirmed in NE
Article from The Nation (Thailand). Date: 15 Septmber 2004
4. Clean-up Operation Likely for GM Papaya
Article from Bankok Post. Date: 14 September 2004
Kultida Samabuddhi
5. Unfinished Business: New US Patents on GE Papaya in Thailand
Article from GM Watch. Date: 8 September 2004
6. Thailand¹s Papaya Trade Loss is a GE Warning to NZ
Press Release from the Green Party (New Zealand). Date: 8 September 2004

1. Genetic Traits Spread to Non-Engineered Papayas in Hawaii

Article from Environment News Service. Date: 10 September 2004

HILO, Hawaii, September 10, 2004 (ENS) - Engineered papaya genes are showing
up in fruits and seeds that were thought to be traditional, prompting a
coalition of outraged farmers, consumers and backyard growers Thursday to
bring their contaminated papayas back to the University of Hawaii, which
created and released the engineered papaya.

Independent laboratory testing results issued this week found the
genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in fruit from organic farms.
Contamination was also found in the stock of non-genetically engineered
seeds being sold commercially by the University of Hawaii.

Genetic engineering of papayas helped growers overcome the ringspot virus,
which by 1997 had decimated Hawaii¹s fifth largest crop. Production had
fallen by nearly 40 percent, farmers were going out of business, and
Hawaii¹s $35 million papaya industry was in danger of collapsing.
Researchers identified and cloned the gene that produces the coat protein in
the virus, then inserted the gene into the papaya, making the plant
resistant to the ringspot virus.

Within four years of the introduction of the genetically engineered fruit,
papaya production had rebounded to levels near where they were before the
ringspot virus invasion.

But growers of organic and traditional papayas say the spreading of
genetically modified fruits and seeds put their operations at risk. They are
demanding that the University of Hawaii (UH) provide a plan for "cleaning up
papaya contamination." The coalition also called for liability protection
for local growers and the prevention of genetic contamination of other
Hawaiian commodity crops.

"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," Lahti said. "This opens farmers to oppressive
lawsuits based on claims of patent infringement, where corporations such as
Monsanto have not hesitated to sue even those who unknowingly planted such

Lahti was referring to Canadian canola grower Percy Schmeiser who this May
lost a case brought by Monsanto, which sued Schmeiser because their patented
Round-Up Ready Canola was in his fields. Monsanto took the position that
even though Schmeiser had not planted the patented canola and did not know
it was on his property, he must pay their technology fee.

Similar unintentional contamination of Hawaiian papayas was evident from lab
test results. All samples were tested by Genetic ID, one of the world's
leading scientific laboratories for genetic testing. Composite samples from
the Big Island and Oahu both revealed GMO contamination.

Nearly 20,000 papaya seeds from across the Big Island, 80 percent of which
came from organic farms and the rest from backyard gardens or wild trees,
showed a contamination level of 50 percent.
Papaya 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.

"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, consumers 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 clear that
coexistence of traditional and GMO crops is impossible."

"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.
"Despite the problems local growers have had with the GMO papaya," said
Bondera, "the university is now genetically engineering taro, pineapple,
banana, sugarcane, and other commodity crops."

"We do not support the further release of other genetically engineered
commodity crops," she said. The coalition is seeking a commitment from the
university to fund research into local, sustainable agriculture.

The Cornell Research Foundation and the Papaya Administrative Committee,
whose grower members helped finance the research, have the license to the
genetically improved papaya seeds. They have allowed Hawaii farmers to use
the seeds for free.

The Volcano Isle Fruit Company, a member of the Hawaii Papaya Industry
Association, is delighted with the results of genetically engineered
papayas. The company says the two genetically engineered varieties, Rainbow
and Sunup, are a success.

The company said researchers produced a "papaya that looks and tastes good,
preserves the high nutrition, and flavors of the Hawaiian varieties."

The research team includes Dennis Gonsalves, UH graduate and center director
of the USDA Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in Hilo; Richard
Manshardt, horticulturist in UH¹s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human
Resources; UH graduate Maureen Masuda Fitch of the U.S. Department of
Agriculture, and Jerry Slightom of Pharmacia-Upjohn Co. The team was awarded
the prestigious 2002 Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Award for

But the Hawaiian Genetic Engineering Action Network says all genetically
modified crops, including papayas, are disastrous for Hawaii.

The organization points to a 2002 study that suggests that the papaya
ringspot virus coat protein is a potential allergen because it contained a
string of amino acids identical to a known allergen. The study by G. Kleter
and A. Peijnenburg, "Screening of transgenic proteins expressed in
transgenic food crops for the presence of short amino acid sequences
identical to potential, IgE-binding linear epitopes of allergens," is
published in BioMed Central Structural Biology 2002, 2, 8-19.

Hawaii has more test sites for genetically engineered plants per acre than
any other state in the nation. As of November 2002, there were 166 field
test being conducted on over 8,000 acres of land. Genetic engineering
companies will not disclose to the public what genetic tests are being done
or where they are being conducted citing the locations as "confidential
business information."

Birds, bees, and wind can carry genetically engineered pollen great
distances where it can contaminate other plants. "Genetically engineered
organisms are alive," the organization says. "Once they escape into the
environment, they reproduce and mutate. They can never be recalled."


2. Hawaiians Warn Against GM Papaya: Species' Introduction May Hit Native

Article from Bankok Post (Thailand). Date: 4 July 2004
Kultida Samabuddhi

Hawaiian farmers yesterday warned Thai farmers against planting genetically
modified papaya, saying that the plant would invade local varieties, with
serious market loss.

"The introduction of GM papaya has brought economic and environmental
disasters to farmers in Hawaii in the past five years,'' Melanie Bondera
told a press conference organised by Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

"I understand that GM papaya is going to be introduced in Thailand soon. So,
we would like to caution you about its possible adverse impacts.''

GM papaya grown in Hawaii had a weaker tree, softer fruit and was less
popular with consumers than other varieties. The strain also required
greater use of fertiliser and pesticides, which increased costs.
"GM papaya sells for only 13-17 cents a pound compared to the 45-85 cents a
pound for non-GM varieties,'' she said. The rejection of GM papaya by the
Japanese market had been a devastating blow for Hawaiian farmers.

"About 60% of Hawaiian papaya were imported by Japan, but since the GM
papaya's introduction by scientists of the University of Hawaii, Japan has
rejected papaya shipments from Hawaii because its consumers are against GM
food,'' she said.

GM papaya is a transgenic papaya strain resistant to ringspot virus, a
disease which can cause a drastic loss of yield.

Field trials of GM papaya in Thailand have been conducted by Mahidol
University's Institute of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Kasetsart
University's department of plant pathology, Kamphaengsaen campus, and the
Department of Agriculture's research station in Khon Kaen province.

Ms Bondera said GM papaya could easily cross-breed with local species. "A
number of Hawaiian farmers who refused to grow GM papaya found that their
papaya plantations were contaminated with GM papaya.''

Jon Biloon, from Big Island, Hawaii, said Thai farmers should neither allow
scientists nor state officials, who were backed by trans-national companies,
to dictate the nation's agricultural practice through genetic engineering

"There are several means to fight the papaya ringspot virus and other plant
diseases. Instead of adopting GM papaya, Thai farmers should develop
alternative pest control and virus resistant measures, which are more
environment-friendly than GE technology,'' said Mr Biloon.

Organic farming and the multi-crops system were a long-term solution for
ringspot virus. He suggested Thai farmers grow as many plant species as
possible on their farms. These plants would become alternative food for
insects, the ringspot virus carriers.

A herbal extract, such as neems, could also effectively protect the plant
from virus carriers, Mr Biloon said.


3. Government Admission: GM Papaya Confirmed in NE

Article from The Nation (Thailand). Date: 15 Septmber 2004

Ministry says it will immediately destroy all crops found to be contaminated

The Agriculture Ministry yesterday admitted it had found genetically
modified (GM) papaya on a farm in Khon Kaen and vowed to destroy the produce
of any farm where GMO (genetically modified organism) contaminated fruit is

Agriculture Minister Somsak Thepsuthin said the ministry had found that of
239 analysed samples, one was a GM papaya.

The ministry took a total of 600 samples of papaya each from 2,600 farmers
who had bought seedlings from the Agricultural Research and Development
Office, Region 3.

Somsak said the Agriculture Office had destroyed the papaya on the farm and
imposed a control zone within a 450metre radius of the GMO contamination to
prevent its possible spread.

He added that the ministry had set up a working committee comprising lawyers
and specialists to detect GMOs and would take action against farmers within
the control zone who sell GM fruit.

The committee will also find out how the papaya of the ministry's research
arm had become GMO contaminated.

The farmer whose papaya tested positive was identified as Samorn Nakkong,
from Tambon Tha Phra, Muang district, who had bought 260 papaya seedlings
from the Agricultural Research and Development Office, four kilometres from
his home, in July. The office has yet to identify the papaya breed ­ Khaek
Dam or Khaek Nual ­ which is GMO contaminated. Agriculture Ministry
permanent secretary Banpot Hongthong said he ordered the Agriculture
Department's centre in Khon Kaen to stop its GMO experiment after the
contamination was found. Papaya on contaminated farms would "be destroyed
immediately", he said.

"The ministry is sincere and is open about the contamination. We reveal the
information and solve the problem immediately. That openness will show
importers of papaya that the government does not support GM plants," he

He said the ministry would also punish the officials responsible for the GMO
contamination pending the findings of the panel. Biothai director Withoon
Lianchamroon said the best way to solve the contamination problem was for
the government to pay compensation to all 2,600 farmers and destroy all the
papaya on their farms, because the cost of GMO testing ­ Bt1,600 per sample
­ was prohibitive.
Withoon called on the government to scrap the GMO experiment of Kasetsart
University, but Agriculture Department directorgeneral Chakan Saengraksawong
said the experiments of both Kasetsart and Mahidol universities would

Lab tests by the environmental organisation Greenpeace and the Human Rights
Commission have independently found GMO papaya on two other farms.

Thai law forbids the public sale of GM seeds and requires products
containing more than five per cent of a genetically modified ingredient to
be labelled.

Greenpeace in July accused the government of illegally selling GM papaya
seeds after the environmental group raided a state-owned farm and conducted
its own tests.

Withoon said that consumer protection groups and his office would take
samples of papaya from seven more provinces. The results will be known in
two weeks.


4. Clean-up Operation Likely for GM Papaya

Article from Bankok Post. Date: 14 September 2004
Kultida Samabuddhi

First concrete action since denial of spread

Clean-up operations will be organised to tackle possible contamination of
plantations in the country by genetically-modified (GM) papayas, the
Agriculture Department said yesterday.

The procedure has three stages - eradication of all papaya trees in affected
plantations, imposition of 400-metre quarantine zones and investigations
into how the contamination occurred, said department chief Chakan

The steps are similar to existing plant disease outbreak control measures,
he said, and will be set up under the Plant Quarantine Act, which prohibits
planting of 89 transgenic crops, including papaya, outside the government's
research station due to the potential impact on human health and the

The is the agency's first concrete action since environmental group
Greenpeace said it found transgenic papayas, developed by the department's
Khon Kaen horticultural research station, in a local farmer's plantation
late last month.

Greenpeace alleged the department had illegally distributed genetically
modified organisms (GMOs) - papaya seeds - to farmers, a claim denied by the

Mr Chakan said the department had randomly tested 300 papaya samples
collected from 2,600 farmers who bought papaya seeds from the station last

"If a papaya sample tests positive for GMOs, a clean-up will go ahead.
Within quarantine zones, all papaya trees will be tested and destroyed if
they contain GMOs,'' he said.

Mr Chakan also called on the National Human Rights Commission to release
test results on the native papayas from the Khon Kaen plantations so the
department could quickly destroy the transgenic papayas if the native stock
is affected.

Last week, the commission collected 15 papaya samples from local farmers in
Khon Kaen to verify Greenpeace's claim of the spread of transgenic papaya
seeds from the department's research station.
A source at the commission said tests, conducted by Mahidol University's
laboratory, had found one papaya sample containing GMOs.

However, the result needs to be confirmed by the National Centre for Genetic
Engineering and Biotechnology before Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is
informed tomorrow, the source added.


5. Unfinished Business: New US Patents on GE Papaya in Thailand

Article from GM Watch. Date: 8 September 2004

In 1996-98 local papaya varieties from Thailand were genetically engineered
for ringspot virus (PRSV) resistance at Cornell University, with genes from
unique Thai strains of ringspot virus inserted into papaya cells. The seeds
were then brought back to Thailand to be grown and tested in field trials
conducted by the Department of Agriculture (DOA). This included the open-air
field trial at the DOA's own agricultural research station in Khon Kaen,
which was recently exposed as the source of genetically engineered (GE)
papaya contamination in farmers' fields.

As public concern over the illegal release of GE papaya increases, new
questions are emerging concerning the truth behind the US patents on the
processes and methods used in creating Thai GE papaya, including GE Khak Dam
and Khak Nuan varieties.

In the case of GE "SunUp" papaya in Hawaii - the only commercially grown GE
papaya in the world - the Material Transfer and Proprietary Rights
Agreements signed by farmers indicate that at least eleven US patents are in
force (1). This includes patents held by the genetic engineering giant,
Monsanto, as well as the Cornell Research Foundation Inc. (2).

In Thailand, the DOA has negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with
Cornell regarding its intellectual property rights over Thai GE papaya, but
the details of this agreement remain hidden from the public. Despite claims
that the MoU is still being drafted, other official sources indicate that
certain conditions have already been agreed upon. The DOA is already on
record in August 2003, stating that under the MoU already signed between
Cornell University and Ministry of Agriculture, when GE papaya is
commercialized in Thailand, "a royalty fee will be charged."(3)

Three New Patents on Thai GE Papaya
On June 15, 2004 - only a month before GE papaya contamination was exposed
in Khon Kaen - the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) granted a new patent
on GE papaya. This new patent is more far-reaching than existing patents on
GE papaya, covering the broad range of DNA constructs and methods used to
create ringspot virus resistance in any kind of GE papaya. As the patent
record shows, this patent was assigned to Cornell Research Foundation Inc.
as the effective owner of these intellectual property rights (4).

Far more important are two new patent applications now pending at the USPTO.
Dr Dennis Gonsalves (who led the original GE papaya project at Cornell and
promoted the creation and use of GE papaya in Thailand) filed both of these
applications on April 11, 2002. The applications were published by the USPTO
on September 11 and October 30, 2003 (5).

The first application is an all-embracing "umbrella" patent on all ringspot
virus genes used in any variety of PRSV-resistant GE papaya in Hawaii,
Brazil, Jamaica, Mexico, Venezuela, and Thailand. This patent involves 113
claims on every aspect of ringspot virus genes and their use in creating
virus resistance in papaya, including ownership of papaya cells, plants and
seeds. There are 21 claims on GE papaya seeds (6).

The second application makes another 20 claims on a wide range of methods
and procedures to create disease resistance in papaya plants through genetic
engineering, including all papaya cells, plants and seeds produced as a
result of those methods (7).

Both patent applications make specific claims on the isolation and
identification of the coat protein of specific papaya ringspot virus strains
from Brazil, Jamaica, Mexico, Venezuela, and Thailand. These patent
applications include the genetic "map" the coat protein of Thai ringspot
virus as an "invention", making it the intellectual property of Dennis
Gonsalves and his collaborators. As with the new patent granted in June, it
is fully expected that these two new patents will also be assigned to
Cornell Research Foundation Inc. as the ultimate owner of these property

So what are the implications? One outcome is that patent rights extend to
all papaya fruit, plant and seeds containing the genes of GE papaya. This
poses potentially serious problems for farmers who unintentionally grow GE
papaya or whose conventional papaya is cross-pollinated by GE papaya. Once
these patented genes become part of a seed, the resulting plants, fruit and
seed are owned by the patent-holders.

Adding to the Unknown Risks of GE Papaya
The secrecy surrounding US patents on Thai GE papaya - including the new
patents now in process - adds to the unknown risks that this genetic
experiment poses to Thai farmers, consumers and the environment.

What is the precise arrangement with Cornell, Monsanto and other foreign
interests concerning the patents on Thai GE papaya? How and when will these
new US patents be applied in Thailand? Will farmers eventually be forced to
pay royalties? Who will ultimately be responsible? These questions remain
unanswered. All that is certain is that with the spread of GE papaya
contamination, Thai people face the possibilty of growing foreign control
over papaya plants and seeds.

There are already signs that US patent rights may be enforced through the
upcoming Thai-US Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Outside of the FTA, the US
patent claims on Thai GE papaya will still be applied globally. The two new
patent applications on GE papaya were filed with the World Intellectual
Property Organization (WIPO) by Cornell Research Foundation Inc. on the same
day they were filed with the USPTO (8). This means that these patents will
be recognized in over 100 countries - including all of the countries that
are major markets for fresh and processed Thai papaya exports. If GE papaya
contamination spreads, Thailand¹s farmers and food exporters may face
potentially serious legal and financial consequences.
(1) Patented Papaya - Extending Corporate Control Over Food & Fields,
Greenpeace, June 2004.
(2) On May 12, 2004, Cornell Research Foundation Inc. was integrated into a
new organization called the Cornell Center for Technology, Enterprise &
Commercialization (CCTEC).
(3) Report of the 3rd ASEAN Training Workshop on Safety and Risk Assessment
of GMOs, August 13-15, 2003, p.31.
(4) US Patent No. 6,750,382, "DNA constructs and methods to impart
resistance to papaya ringspot virus on plants", June 15, 2004.
(5) Full details of these patents are available of the patent database of
the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO):
(6) US Patent Application No.20030172397, "Papaya ringspot virus genes",
September 11, 2003.
(7) US Patent Application No.20030204869, "Method to control the ripening of
papaya fruit and confer disease resistance to papaya plants", October 30,
(8) See WO 02/083925 A2 and WO 02/082889 A1 on the World Intellectual
Property Organization (WIPO) patents database: Although
Thailand is not yet a signatory of the WIPO agreements such at the Patent
Cooperation Treaty (PCT), it is expected to join in the near future.


6. Thailand's Papaya Trade Loss is a GE Warning to NZ

Press Release from the Green Party (New Zealand). Date: 8 September 2004

The Green Party today said a Genetic Engineering contamination scare
currently unfolding in Thailand demonstrates the serious risks GE release
would pose to New Zealand's exports.

The Bangkok Post, The Nation and the AFP agency reported on the weekend that
European importers have cancelled orders of Thai papaya products after news
that field trials of GE papaya had possibly contaminated nearby farms. The
precautionary move followed independent labs in Hong Kong confirming papaya
on the Thai market were the Kaek Dam Tha Phra strain that are officially
only grown at Government research stations. A Director of a Thai organic
exporter affected said the European reaction has been "faster than the bird
flu impact", while an executive of a leading fruit exporter said the move
had already cost the Thai industry one billion baht (NZ$37 million).

"This costly cancellation of export orders demonstrates the economic impact
that even the suspicion of GE contamination can have, " said Jeanette
Fitzsimons, the Green Party's GE Spokesperson, "New Zealand should pay heed
- growing GE damages a country's food exports."

Opposition to GE is strong in Thailand, but the Government there has fudged
the issue, having just cancelled approval of GE crops that would have ended
a three-year regulatory ban. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who
yesterday tried to downplay the papaya scare, has consistently been accused
by local activists of bowing to pressure from corporate giants such as

Regardless of the political and scientific debates on the safety of GE food,
the economic fact is that consumers around the world are applying the
precautionary principle, particularly in Europe, which is our largest market
for food and beverage, taking some 37 per cent of that class of our exports.
Some recent examples:

*in the UK, continued consumer resistance to GE has meant all supermarkets
are maintaining their five-year ban on GE ingredients in their in-house
ranges, many are also now calling for GE-free feed for animals on their
suppliers' farms, and the nation's largest corporate farmer has banned GE
*in Italy, a major wine association is opposing GE wine while only 13 per
cent of Italians have said they are willing to eat GE food and only then if
it is much cheaper;
*in Austria, supermarkets are now banning GE food;
*in Germany, 170 out of 216 food companies are specifying GE-free products.

Ms Fitzsimons: The list goes on.

"This GE papaya scare is yet another reason why a Free Trade Agreement with
Thailand is not in the interests of the people of either country. Despite
popular opposition, both Governments appear to be caving in to corporate
pressure to keep the door open to GE release. GE trade barriers with
Thailand are just and reasonable because they support the interests and
wishes of the Thai people," said Ms Fitzsimons.