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Pundit’s Mailbag — GMOs And Hawaii Papaya

Our piece Attack On Hawaii’s Genetically Modified Papayas Sparks Debate About Science, Organics And Freedom To Choose brought a word from a GMO skeptic:

Thanks for your report on the destruction of GM mangos in Hawaii.  Although I fully agree that this was a criminal act, I think some details of your article deserve a second look.

You attribute this vandalism to ‘anti-GM forces’.  Now hold on a minute; I’m not too crazy about GM as a general category, but I didn’t cut down those papaya trees. There are many people with deep concerns about the proliferation of GM crops who are not saboteurs.

It is interesting that  Delan Perry, VP of the Hawaii Papaya Industry Association, whom  you interviewed, stated ‘Our papaya industry is different from the corn and soybean industries in our reasons for introducing genetically engineered crops. We did it because we had to, not to boost product quality and yields.’  

Is there just a suggestion that different motives for introducing GM crops, and different likely impacts from their widespread use, might justify different responses? The Hawaiian papaya situation may be an exemplary instance of the potential benefits of GM, and whoever cut down these trees may be an exemplary instance of sociopathic behavior, but neither one should be taken as indicative of the overall virtues or vices of groups of people and types of technologies.

Bob Sanderson
Owner, President

Jonathan’s Sprouts
Rochester, Massachusetts

Bob Sanderson has often been a valuable contributor to the Pundit, including pieces such as these:

Pundit’s Mailbag — Does A 1,200-item Audit Necessarily Result In More Safety Than A 40-item Audit?

Pundit Mailbag — Honor ‘Green’ Attempts

Pundit’s Mailbag — The Acceptance Of Risk

Pundit’s Mailbag — Sprout Lessons Echo Food Safety Dilemma

Pundit’s Mailbag — More On Manure

Pundit’s Mailbag — The Tyranny Of Economics And The Goals Of Fairtrade

Pundit’s Mailbag — Can Irradiation Follow The Path Of Pasteurization?

Pundit’s Mailbag — A Look At Organic Versus Conventional Yields

Pundit’s Mailbag — Irradiation, Pasteurization and Labeling

Pundit’s Mailbag — Pesticides And Cancer

Pundit’s Mailbag — Food Prices And Free Markets

Pundit’s Mailbag — Organics And Manure

Testing Sprout Seeds

We always appreciate Bob’s insight, but in this case we think he mischaracterized our response.

Although many in the industry in Hawaii are speculating that the destruction of the papaya fields was the work of anti-GMO activists, we were actually hesitant to endorse this scenario, as we explained:

We are, however, somewhat skeptical that opposition to GMOs is what motivated this destruction. It is possible, but we suspect that the anti-GMO forces would have been proud of their work and claimed “credit” for it. We suspect it is either personal or financial in motivation. Maybe they hope to drive these farmers out and buy or lease the land cheap themselves?

We found the distinction being claimed for Hawaiian GMO papaya as being unconvincing. If one opposes GMOs because they can do terrible things, how could the survival of the papaya industry in Hawaii override those concerns? And why shouldn’t farmers be able to use GMOs to produce high yields or to provide cheaper food or food equipped with certain nutrients? Are these causes somehow less virtuous that sustaining papaya farming in Hawaii?

One thing we do agree with Bob Sanderson on is his point that technology is morally neutral. At different times, in different places, for different purposes, it can be deployed for good or for evil. Our job is to tilt the balance for good.

Many thanks to Bob Sanderson for his always intriguing input.


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