Academic scientists who have developed forms of papaya that can withstand the widespread, destructive ringspot virus are coming under fire in both Hawaii and Thailand. But the researchers say that the criticisms are simply part of the continuing opposition to genetically modified crops that have no known health risks.
In Hawaii, protesters assert that transgenic papaya, developed by scientists at Cornell University and the University of Hawaii, have contaminated organic papaya in the state, potentially ruining the organic-papaya industry.
In Thailand, activists have accused the government of breaking its own ban on testing genetically modified crops. They also charge that the government unfairly awarded patents to Cornell for ways to stem ringspot virus, which decimated Hawaii’s papaya trees in the 1990s.
Dozens of growers and consumers rallied at the University of Hawaii at Hilo this month to protest the institution’s role in introducing genetically modified papaya trees into the state. Scientists at the university agree that pollen from genetically modified trees, which they developed to defend against ringspot virus, may have been transmitted to organic papaya trees. But such cross-pollination, they say, has probably been limited, and organic farmers can take measures to minimize or even prevent it.