Hong Kong gov't gave GM papaya seeds to organic farmers (31/3/2006)

EXCERPT: The department said the seeds came from a research institute in China that guaranteed they were not genetically modified.

H.K. gov't gave GM papaya seeds to farmers: Greenpeace
Monday March 13

(Kyodo) _ Environmental group Greenpeace said Monday that papaya farmers in Hong Kong were notified by the government late last year that papaya seeds provided to them earlier were "very likely" genetically modified.

The government gave 18 local organic farmers the seeds since February last year, Greenpeace campaigner Fung Ka-keung said.

By December, after some of the 300 papaya trees were harvested and sold in markets, it urged farmers who grow organic produce to cut down the papaya trees because the seeds were "very likely to be genetically modified," Fung said.

"The government has in 2004 consulted the public on monitoring genetically modified food," Fung said. "But so far, no bill has been tabled in the legislature. Worse yet, it is the Environmental, Transport and Works Bureau that is handling this. The government does not see it as a food safety issue."

Unlike genetically modified papaya found in Hawaii and Thailand in the past, Fung said the GM papaya planted in Hong Kong is identical to normal papaya, which means the public can hardly differentiate between them.

Fung admitted that it is not illegal in Hong Kong to distribute genetically modified food since there is no law against it, but he said no other countries have approved it.

"According to studies, genetically modified papaya contains an antibiotic-resistance gene and a protein similar to allergenic protein, which might increase antibiotic-resistance among germs and increase the risk of developing an allergic reaction among humans," he said.

The group has helped local farmers to isolate and destroy some papaya trees that were confirmed by a German laboratory as being genetically modified, but Fung said he does not know how many more papaya trees in addition to the 100 identified ones are still growing.

He called on the government to assist the affected farmers to get rid of the trees and implement tight surveillance against genetically modified food.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said in a statement that tests conducted in November found that some of the papaya were genetically altered.

"Further investigation is under way to determine whether there are contaminations at different levels from seed production to planting in the field, or whether the supplied seeds are truly genetically modified," it said, adding that all the papaya trees and fruit therefrom have been eradicated.

The department said the seeds came from a research institute in China that guaranteed they were not genetically modified.

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