Posted 20 August 2011, by Jennifer Sinco Kelleher (Associated Press), Silicon Valley Mercury News (MediaNews Group), mercurynews.com
HONOLULU — Thousands of papaya trees were chopped down on 10 acres of Big Island farmland under the cover of night last month. Hawaii County police said the destruction appeared to be done with a machete, but there are no leads and few clues beyond the tree stumps and all the fruit left to rot.
“It’s hard to imagine anybody putting that much effort into doing something like that,” said Delan Perry, vice president of the Hawaii Papaya Industry Association. “It means somebody has to have passionate reason.”
A growing theory among farmers is that the attack was an act of eco-terrorism, a violent protest against the biotechnology used in growing papayas here. Police did not respond to calls seeking comment.
The majority of papayas grown on 170 farms on Oahu and the Big Island are genetically modified.
University of Hawaii scientists developed the genetically modified fruit that’s resistant to a ring spot virus that wiped out production on Oahu in the 1950s and was detected in the Puna district on the Big Island in the 1990s. Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are crops whose genetic makeup has been altered to give the plant a desirable trait. The genetically modified fruit is credited with saving Hawaii’s $11 million papaya production industry.
“We wouldn’t have a papaya industry today if it weren’t for the transgenic papaya,” said Alicia Maluafiti, executive director of the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, which represents the seed industry and protects biotech crop growers. “Without a transgenic papaya restricting the expansion of the virus, that virus would be prevalent today.”
One of the affected farmers, Erlinda Bernardo, said fellow papaya growers often worry about retaliation from those who are against GMOs. “Most of the product on the island is genetically modified,” she said. “If not, most of the farmers would suffer, there would be more unemployment.” Bernardo, her husband and four children are preparing to plant again in another area after 3,000 trees worth $15,000 on five leased acres were destroyed.