Sunday, July 28, 2013


NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU STILL SEE IT: There's an "Island Voices" commentary in today's Star-Advertiser (don't bother- it's paywalled) by Big Island GMO papaya grower Ken Kamiya headlined "GMO Ban would cripple Hawai`i farming."

His case would seem to be Roseann-Barr-related, basing his commentary on the proposition that her testimony on their GMO-related Bill 79 (which exempts papayas) speaks for the whole anti-GMO movement.

He spends half the article talking about her but he does of course make the familiar claim that GMO papayas "saved the papaya industry" after the "ring spot virus" nearly wiped out papayas in the 90's, a familiar refrain that is presumed to be factual by most.

But riddle us this. If the only way to save the papaya from the dreaded bug was to use genetic modification, where exactly did the "organic" and non-GMO papayas you see on the produce shelves come from? Did they somehow "un-GMO" them? Because presumably if the GMO papayas prevented the regular papayas from being wiped out by the ring spot virus there shouldn't be any organic papayas left.

Well the answer is obviously that it didn't wipe out the rest of the papayas, which were saved by either natural section or traditional breeding techniques.

For thousands of years, as Darwin's "Theory of Natural Selection explains," organisms survived blights or epidemics because the ones that survived had some kind of natural immunity to the bug. When they bred, the result was a species that was no longer threatened because all members had natural immunity.

The fittest survived. And therefore, so did the species.

This was sped up over the past few centuries by humans cross-breeding domesticated species where the resistant plants were bred together. But basically it was the same process as nature had used.

And that's where the organic papayas and non-GMO papayas came from- they either naturally survived the "ring spot plague" or, more likely in modern times, people bred the ones which were not killed off by the virus- the ones with natural immunity.

Were there no "industry" to demanded a salable product for harvest year after year after year, within a few years the "survival of the fittest" would have naturally occurred and we would now, 15 years later, have only non-GMO papayas being grown... the need for any GMO papaya having disappeared.

We don't expect this argument to change Mr Kamiya's mind. As Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald wrote: "what a fool believes he sees no wise man has the power to reason away."

But a miracle is just the science we don't understand yet. Understand?


Andrew Cooper said...

What you neglect to consider is the possible effects of having a majority of the crop resistant, as it is GMO. If the pool of hosts is reduced the virus is reduced in population. The fields of resistant plants may also prevent spreading of the virus to non-resistant plants. The principle is called herd immunity in animals, including humans. It is the same principle that allows vaccines to be so effective, protecting individuals that can not be vaccinated, by preventing the spread of the virus.

Not saying that this is what is going on, but your argument is too simplistic, neglecting to consider other factors in having much of the crop resistant. Viruses can and will wipe out entire populations.

TheOldTechnician said...

You also assoumed that the papayas were already wiped away. Organic growers regrew their trees from uninfected stock once the ringspot virus was cleared from the Islands. As mentioned by Andrew, the GM papayas are providing critical herd immunity to the organic growers, free of charge ! So much for gratitude !

The GM papayas are exempt in name only. Bill 79 requires either totally enclosed containment or 750 ft buffers from property lines, streams and shorelines. A 100 acre gm papaya farm would have to give up, at a minimum, over 92 acres to buffers !