BIO held its 2014 International Convention in San Diego, CA, June 23-26. This year BIO invited guests from Hawaii who shared their stories on what it is like to be a GE papaya farmer right now in light of the recent ban on the cultivation of GMOs on the Big Island.
You may remember the story of Hawaii’s Rainbow papaya which was genetically engineered to withstand the papaya ringspot virus. It is a story still very much familiar to not only the papaya famers of Hawaii but to the general public as well. In the 1950s, a devastating papaya ringspot virus spread on island of Oahu causing severe economic losses. Papaya production then had to move to the Puna area of the Big Island in the 1960s, but, by 1997, the virus had almost destroyed the industry. Production of Hawaii’s fifth largest crop fell by nearly 40 percent, farmers were going out of business, and Hawaii’s once $17 million papaya industry was struggling to survive.
In 1997, the U.S. government concluded its regulatory review of the first genetically engineered papaya variety named Rainbow, which includes a gene that makes the papaya plants resistant to the ringspot virus. Commercialized in 1998, the genetic improvement had not only begun to show promise for the Hawaii papaya industry, but production actually began to return to levels near where they were before the papaya ringspot virus invaded.
BIO welcomed Joni Kamiya, Hawaii community advocate and daughter to a GE papaya farmer, to its 2014 International Convention. Here, Joni recalls the experiences of her father and how he embraced biotechnology to help save his farm from the 90′s papaya ringspot virus epidemic:
Another additional highlight from the visit from our friends from Hawaii was the account of Ross Sibucao, Executive Director, Hawaii Papaya Industry Association. Ross shared with us his family’s story as papaya farmers and the important role biotech has played ensuring that his family’s business will remain for generations to come.
Additionally, Ross spoke on what life has been like for a GE papaya farmer since the GMO cultivation ban.
On December 5, 2013, Mayor Billy Kenoi signed Bill 113 into law, prohibiting biotech companies from operating on the Big Island and banning farmers from growing any new genetically altered crops. As a result, famers like Ross Sibucao have experienced harassment and uprooting of their crops by anti-GMO activists. Ross’ testimony provides BIO attendees with a new look into why industry must work together with local famers to ensure that this biotechnology isn’t impeded and to teach consumers how it has proven to be a crop-saving technology.
Read New York Times’ Amy Harmon’s piece A Lonely Quest for Facts on Genetically Modified Crops to learn more about Ross’ story.