Greenpeace volunteers removed genetically modified fruit yesterday from a Puna, Big Island, farm.
Altered papaya trees removed
An organic farm owner was "dismayed" to find the genetically engineered plants
KAPOHO, Hawaii » Ten volunteers donned protective suits yesterday to clear genetically engineered papaya trees found growing on an organic farm on the Big Island.
The "decontamination" project involved farmers and members of the environmental group Greenpeace.
"This is sort of the heartland for GE papaya. This is ground zero," said Michelle Sheather, coordinator of Greenpeace's GE Campaign.
The hazmat suits were worn to prevent workers from unintentionally spreading the seeds of genetically altered plants, she said.
Greenpeace's help was sought after farming groups were contacted by Terri Mulroy, who discovered suspected altered papaya growing about a week ago on the 9.1-acre organic farm she bought 18 months ago.
"I was dismayed to learn that I had GMO (genetically modified organism) papaya," she said.
Mulroy suggested birds or the wind could have spread seeds from nearby farms where SunUp papayas are grown.
Genetically engineered papayas are grown commercially only in Hawaii, Sheather said.
SunUp and Rainbow varieties were created by University of Hawaii and Cornell University researchers to counter the ringspot virus that reduced Big Island papaya harvests by more than 50 percent following its discovery in 1992.
The patented seeds were distributed in 1998 and soon started producing the first genetically modified tree fruit to be sold commercially in the U.S.
Not all consumers have a taste for the disease-resistant varieties of papaya. They are banned in Japan, which buys 40 percent of Hawaii's annual $16 million papaya crop.
Organic farmers could lose their certification and their premium-priced crops could be devalued if genetically modified plants take root on their property, said Melanie Bondera, a Honaunau organic farmer.
Bondera said she has found altered papaya on her farm, noting it is easy to spread because people discard seeds almost anywhere, and many stores sell unlabeled genetically engineered fruit.
"It just feels like such an invasion to try to run an organic farm and these GE seeds show up without your permission," Bondera said. "This is sort of a new problem on the planet."
Yesterday's gathering included test kits that can be used to determine whether a plant has been genetically engineered. Part of an immature leaf or a few seeds are placed in a liquid protein solution, and if it turns blue after an hour or so, it is a genetically engineered variety.