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2-Plants: Hong Kong's government gave GM papaya seeds to farmers

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TITLE:  H.K. gov't gave GM papaya seeds to farmers: Greenpeace
SOURCE: Kyodo News, Japan
DATE:   13 Mar 2006

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

(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

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

European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
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