MADNESS TO THE METHODS: A small notice in today’s local paper announced what may seem to malihini to be about a ho-hum blessing of the new papaya disinfection plant on Kaua`i.
But in simply rewriting a county press release the paper’s editor allows more questions to be raised than answered for many kama`aina who remember the history of the papaya “industry” and the issues of disinfection.
The press release conveniently fails to answer the big question- exactly how will the papaya’s be disinfected?
There was a time in the 70’s when papaya was “the future of ‘diversified’ agriculture” on Kaua`i. The export market seemed so unlimited that farmers were actually tearing out fields of bananas in Kilauea to plant papaya.
All it would take was a disinfection facility,
That led to one of the biggest political protest battles in Hawaiian history- the fight against “irradiation facilities”- exposing them to nuclear material- and the efforts of the state backed by University of Hawai`i and some large farms to construct the facilities.
Long story short, the people won their fight against irradiation, especially on the Big Island, buy only after it became academic because the people of Japan said they wouldn’t eat them. Eventually the movement went nationwide where people refused to buy irradiated foods when they were labeled as such.
That led to a “hot water disinfection” method which never worked and destroyed the papayas. Eventually these “hot water dip” facilities that had been built- including one on Kaua`i- went defunct and ours was actually demolished.
So naturally this peaked our interest- what kind of disinfection process was to be used in the new plant?
We called Bill Spitz, who was listed in the article as Agricultural Specialist with the county’s Office of Economic Development and he told us that the plant would use a “hot air” process which would heat the fruit to 117 degrees with a big fan and a little bit of water.
Wow, we thought- a new method and one that could have saved everyone from a lot of pilikila over the past 20 years if we had it then.
But guess what? Spitz told us that this method not new and indeed was developed at UH more than 20 years ago.
Of course at the time many irradiation opponents claimed there were other safer methods of fighting bugs and disease and that the state was being sold a bill of goods by the burgeoning irradiation industry.
Even though the label was an innocuous looking symbol that told you nothing if you didn’t already know what it was, people learned fast enough, and rejected such fruits and vegetables.
Gee it’s great they learned their lesson and haven’t tried to use any unproven potentially harmful methodologies developed in UH labs to “save” the papaya and other produce industries.... not.
What they have learned is to fight like hell against current efforts to require labeling of genetically modified products, including of course papayas.
Overseas in Japan and across Europe they do require labeling and many governments have banned the importation of GM produce entirely- meaning now that we have a way to disinfect them no one will accept our GM papayas.
There are many ways other than genetic modification to control plant diseases and insect vulnerabilities, as sustainability experts will tell you. Maybe in 20 years state policy makers and UH researchers will listen.
Currently though the facility isn’t the only thing that’s full of hot air.