GM Papaya in Hong Kong

There is an Ordinance before Hong Kong’s LegCo which is designed to exempt papaya from the rules supposedly protecting the environment from the release of GM organisms. Papaya is to be exempted because, according to the Notice:

Based on the risk assessment, AFCD
concluded that GM papaya is unlikely to pose any adverse biosafety effect on
the biological diversity of the local environment, mainly because papaya is an
exotic species, and that it does not have any close relatives in Hong Kong,
making it unlikely for the release of GM papaya to the environment to affect
the local biodiversity.

That seems to me to be a pretty casual dismissal of any potential problems. How many exotic species with no close relatives have caused havoc in ecosystems around the world, I wonder? The question of contamination of other papayas is ignored by the government, and the effect on biodiversity is focused on. It’s a neat trick to focus on a particular issue which is subsumed within much bigger issues, thereby ignoring those big issues. I wrote a brief submission – the deadline is in two days (22 May) – expressing some of my own concerns:

I have been growing organic produce on my small farm in Mui Wo, Lantau, for some years now, and I am very disturbed to read about the GMO (Control of Release) (Exemption) Notice which is to be put before LegCo. Let me say that I am unequivocally opposed to all GMOs, and, in particular, I think the exemption proposed for GM papaya is totally irresponsible.
We can thank the University of Hawai’i for developing in 1998 transgenic papaya which was resistant to ringspot virus. According to Claire Hope Cummings in her book Uncertain Peril soon after their introduction to Hawai’i they started to contaminate other papaya varieties. By 2004 50% of papaya tested were contaminated.
In the LegCo brief it states that 60-70% of papayas grown in Hong Kong might be GM-contaminated, and that this would constitute an illegal release of GMO into the environment. These papayas are quite obviously ones that people have bought in supermarkets, and the seeds of which they have used in their own gardens, without any knowledge of them being GM. Yet they are now liable to prosecution, in the same way that farmers in the US have been prosecuted by Monsanto when their crops have been contaminated by GM crops grown by someone else.
This is utterly contemptible. It is the companies who introduce their frankenseeds into the environment who should be prosecuted. By what right do these companies contaminate the natural plantlife of the planet, which is the natural inheritance of us all? By what right do they destroy the crops of organic papaya growers, forcing them to pull up and burn their plants, as has happened in other countries?
If GM crops are as harmless as the biotech companies want us to believe, then make them label everything that has been genetically modified and let the consumer choose for herself what products she would prefer.
Far from allowing GM papaya to spread uncontrolled through the territory, there should be a major assault made upon this whole pernicious business. The government should put some of its filthy lucre into destroying all GM-contaminated papayas in Hong Kong, and provide the growers with free, organic seedlings instead. Make Hong Kong a totally GM-Free Zone.
How pitiful to see the Hong Kong government kowtowing to these American neo-imperialists.

As far as I’m concerned, the whole GM undertaking is about a few companies trying to gain control of the world’s food production systems, and they’re being allowed to get away with it. I’d love to know just how much money passes under the table to bring about this travesty.


About transitionsl

I've been an English teacher for the best part of 30 years, teaching in England, Tanzania, Brunei, Australia and Hong Kong. I've always been interested in nature and environmental issues, but it was the discovery of Peak Oil about five years ago that galvanised me into trying to help my local community to prepare for what will be a dramatically different world to the one many of us have been used to. I've been helping to run a transition group, following the guidelines created by Rob Hopkins's Transition Movement in the UK. This blog is an attempt to engage in discussion with a wider group of people in Hong Kong on the ways to transition from our current oil dependency to a state of fossil-free local resilience.
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