(Download the entire PDF of this 2006 Greenpeace Briefing Paper)
The ringspot virus-resistant genetically engineered (GE) papaya introduced in Hawaii in 1998 has been a commercial failure that has propelled the Islands’ papaya industry towards collapse.
Fewer papayas are harvested in Hawaii now than at any time in more than a generation,fewer also than during the years when the outbreak of papaya ringspot virus was at its worst.The gross value of Hawaii’s fresh papaya crop was higher in 1997,the last year of non-GE production,than it has been in each and every year since.
Since 1998,US citizens have doubled their average consumption of fresh papayas.Yet in Hawaii,the total area of papayas harvested is now less than 600 hectares,a decline of 28% since the GE papaya was introduced.Ten and twenty years ago,nearly twice the amount of acreage was harvested.On average,farmers now receive 35% less per kilogram for their fruit than they did before the GE papaya was released.
Despite these grim statistics from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA),the genetic engineering industry and its allies insist that the GE papaya has been a success.The American Farm Bureau says that it is “a dramatic success for biotechnology” (1) that, Monsanto proclaims,“is credited with saving Hawaii’s papaya industry.” (2)
In reality, genetic engineering has not saved an industry – it has accelerated the decline of Hawaiian papayas. While other market factors have to be taken into account as well, the introduction of GE papaya poses a significant and unique market disadvantage and certainly hasn’t saved the Hawaiian industry. Arguably,the only real beneficiaries of the GE papaya in Hawaii are a few large companies in a concentrated industry that frequently relies on tenant farmers who don’t own the land that they work.
For organic farmers,GE papayas have been a source of problems.The burden of defending against contamination from GE papaya pollen has been unfairly foisted upon those who seek to produce papayas most sustainably. The truth about the failures in Hawaii is especially important because of the pressure that the US is exerting on other countries,especially in Southeast Asia,to permit GE papaya on their land.GE papaya promoters such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the genetic engineering industry association the International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications (ISAAA) claim that it has been a success and,based upon that dubious assertion,they urge countries such as Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia to open their farms to the genetically engineered fruit.
Yet the ‘success’ of the GE papaya is largely a fiction dreamed up and promoted by its inventors and by a few large Hawaiian Papaya businesses that have trapped themselves in a cycle of genetic engineering use. If they do not succeed in convincing Asian countries to plant and eat the GE papaya,then the Hawaiian industry will likely continue to spiral downward – a collapse being caused by its own self-inflicted GE experiment.This is due to almost universal consumer and market rejection,with a clear preference for non-GE and organic papaya.There is also, sensibly,no regulatory approval for GE papaya import to key markets,e.g.Japan & the 25 countries of the EU.
Hawaii’s papaya industry has a product that consumers do not want and also has strong competition from papaya producing countries in South East Asia or Latin America. Mexican papaya,for example,is more widely consumed in mainland USA than the Hawaiian one.
1 | Truelsen,J.2003.Biotechnology saves Hawaii papaya industry.American Farm Bureau News,26 May 2003.http://www.fb.org/news/fbn/html/biotechnology.html
2 | Monsanto.Monsanto Hawaii:Agricultural Biotech in the Islands. http://www.monsanto.com/monsanto/layout/about_us/locations/us/hawaii/agr_biotech.asp,accessed 17 January 2006.