Problem Papaya: Banning GMO Strain Will Force Cultivation of Safer Fruit

The letter finally arrived. Ripped it open – there were three pages, I scanned quickly for the verdict: GMO, or non-GMO?

Frankly, just looking at my once beloved papaya tree, now suspect, had spoiled my appetite for papayas lately.

The news was good! No GMOs. Now in all good conscience I can send it’s seeds off to my favorite ethnobotanical seed company, JL Hudson, Seedsman.

I have been reading their catalogs and ordering their rare seeds since about 1991. In all this time, there have been few changes to the catalog’s style. They resisted computerization for the longest time, and only finally went online, and you still have to send them letters. I love it.

The covers are always line art, very old botanical illustrations. Inside is a bonanza of information about the offerings: the rare, the beautiful, and the useful – an education in and of itself. I read it cover to cover, and save them for years, only reluctantly adding a few to the compost pile after insects have gnawed the edges. At the bottom of the pages are quotations from thinkers, politicians, patriots, seedsmen, etc.

My New Zealand tea tree was once a tiny seed from JLH. Now I harvest the leaves, needles, really, to make a fine, aromatic and antibiotic extract for my soap making. I like the challenge of growing seeds from plants that are native to climates non-tropical. I will try several times before giving up completely on seeds that require chilling, scarification, or smoke, to burst into action. Love the little spring annuals from gardens of grandma’s day.

The papaya tree is like an annual of the tree world, in that it’s useful life is relatively short-lived. It is so easy and quick to compost, too. I enjoy these trees to the very last, watching their trunks get thinner and lacy-looking before they finally melt away.

I tried some Indian seeds once, the fruits were huge and pink-fleshed, yes, but the flavor insipid compared to "my" papaya. An Indian artist friend, having heard my description of the plant, added that in India, those types are fed to cattle. I am still of the opinion that mine is the best.

End of story? No, not quite.

Other papaya growers on our island, for whom growing is their livelihood, were given GMO seeds by well-meaning University of Hawaii scientists, to plant after ringspot virus nearly wiped out their harvests. Sadly, these strange fruits were never tested on mice nor men, before being placed in the hands of an unsuspecting public. (I tried the GMO papayas - tasteless, lumpy.) I worry about the long-term consequences of using the public as guinea pigs in genetic experiments.

Scientists only recently discovered the reality of epigenetics - how the sins of the grandfathers are visited on the grandsons, so to speak. The one who pointed this out was as at first soundly derided, I heard. Science progresses, funeral by funeral, having become like a religion these days. That is, until globalist corporations entered the picture, throwing millions of dollars into research, driving the universities, as well as the politicians.

Now, we get bizarre, dangerous, and poorly tested ideas foisted on the public, who beta-test things for them. Usually to the tune of “it will make them safe, save time, pain, money”, some big, fabulous benefit is touted, and the public in it’s supreme, gullible innocence, embraces the new thing and the chips begin falling where they may.

Hawaii County Council member Brenda Ford is working on a new bill banning GMO papayas. They should have been thoroughly tested first, to begin with. If passed, the farmers growing them will have to plant some new, non-GMO seeds. Hopefully, they will also adopt organic and permaculture techniques, in place of the soil-destructive conventional mono-culture.

We should be cautious of any scientific tinkering with genes. What this new science reveals is the glaring brilliance of man’s hubris. Humans are so limited in what they can perceive - we can only see and measure a tiny portion of the spectrum of the whole reality. The long term effects of scientific monkeying with the planet are seen all around us now, to the lasting detriment of the earth, and our descendants who are now burdened by it. Some things should just never leave the lab.

About the author: Vicki Vierra is an artist, soap-maker, and gardener in Keaau, Hawaii. Her work is in collections around the world, including the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, Art in Public Places collection.

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