Genetically modified super bananas might end up saving millions of lives

posted at 8:01 pm on June 16, 2014 by Erika Johnsen

Amazing. Via AFP:

A super-enriched banana genetically engineered to improve the lives of millions of people in Africa will soon have its first human trial, which will test its effect on vitamin A levels, Australian researchers said Monday.

The project plans to have the special banana varieties — enriched with alpha and beta carotene which the body converts to vitamin A — growing in Uganda by 2020. …

“Good science can make a massive difference here by enriching staple crops such as Ugandan bananas with pro-vitamin A and providing poor and subsistence-farming populations with nutritionally rewarding food,” said project leader Professor James Dale. …

“The consequences of vitamin A deficiency are dire with 650,000-700,000 children world-wide dying … each year and at least another 300,000 going blind,” he said.

The new bananas are on their way to the U.S. for trials that scientists hope to begin soon, and if everything checks out, the same biotechnology might eventually be deployed in other countries, too. Rwanda, parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, and others stand to benefit from a more nutritionally substantive food staple — if, that is, anti-GMO and apparently sociopathic activists don’t unnecessarily insert themselves into the debate again, like they did with genetically enhanced golden rice. Via the Scientific American last March:

By 2002, Golden Rice was technically ready to go. Animal testing had found no health risks. Syngenta, which had figured out how to insert the Vitamin A–producing gene from carrots into rice, had handed all financial interests over to a non-profit organization, so there would be no resistance to the life-saving technology from GMO opponents who resist genetic modification because big biotech companies profit from it. Except for the regulatory approval process, Golden Rice was ready to start saving millions of lives and preventing tens of millions of cases of blindness in people around the world who suffer from Vitamin A deficiency.

It’s still not in use anywhere, however, because of the opposition to GM technology. Now two agricultural economists, one from the Technical University of Munich, the other from the University of California, Berkeley, have quantified the price of that opposition, in human health, and the numbers are truly frightening.

Their study, published in the journal Environment and Development Economics, estimates that the delayed application of Golden Rice in India alone has cost 1,424,000 life years since 2002. That odd sounding metric – not just lives but ‘life years’ – accounts not only for those who died, but also for the blindness and other health disabilities that Vitamin A deficiency causes. The majority of those who went blind or died because they did not have access to Golden Rice were children.

Basically, these nutjobs whipped up a bunch of phantom fears about the infinitesimally possible long-term health effects of GMOs, with the direct result that millions of children around the world were denied the relatively simple means of preventing fatal nutritional deficiencies. Pat yourselves on the back, guys.

The really painfully hypocritical part of this, however, is that a lot of the whispered fears on which these crazed activists have based their opposition are a sentiment on which Big Businesses has actively capitalized. You know, the sort of corporate influence that these committed leftists claim to abhor? Let’s call it the Organic/Anti-GMO Industrial Complex, courtesy of this new study:

However, according to a damning report issued by the organization Academics Review, the rapidly growing organic food market is built upon a foundation of lies.

The report states, in no uncertain terms, that the organic food industry conspired to deceive the public about the safety of conventionally grown food. By raising doubts over the scientific consensus on pesticides, hormones, and GMOs, organic food marketers deliberately played on people’s fears in order to expand the industry. One company, Organic Valley, even goes so far as to distribute activity books and promotional materials to schoolchildren that tout the alleged health benefits of organic food, indoctrinating a new generation of consumers. Parents are urged to lobby schools to serve organic-only meals.

Unsurprisingly, the authors, University of Illinois nutritional scientist Bruce M. Chassy and University of Melbourne food scientist David Tribe, conclude that “food safety and health concerns are the primary drivers of consumer organic purchasing.”

I really have zero issues with the organic food market, or with whatever personal choices people want to make in regard to the food they put in their bodies — but I do have a problem when people actively interfere with the opportunities that other people might have to make those same personal choices. Perhaps the even more painfully hypocritical part of this debate is that agricultural biotechnology really should be a self-proclaimed environmentalist’s dream; organic farming actually isn’t “sustainable” in any sense of the word, and GMOs have endless potential to create more nutritious food, on smaller areas of land, using fewer resources and pesticides, with greater resilience to climate change. Beat that.


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That and modified rice that delivers Vit. A would help in many nations.

Luckily the Left is against GMOs and prefer to see people suffer.

ajacksonian on June 16, 2014 at 8:02 PM

Oh, no!

GMOs ! !

RedPepper on June 16, 2014 at 8:04 PM

anti-GMO people are racist!

rbj on June 16, 2014 at 8:08 PM

Dibs on next open registration.

rogerb on June 16, 2014 at 8:09 PM

Well it appears to help poor people so the Liberals will make sure this gets shut down as they have in the past.

Johnnyreb on June 16, 2014 at 8:09 PM

Those bio-Luddites should all be charged with crimes against Humanity.

vnvet on June 16, 2014 at 8:12 PM

Banana fallacy

hepcat on June 16, 2014 at 8:13 PM

Rwanda, parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, and others stand to benefit from a more nutritionally substantive food staple

LOL. Do you think these places got the way they are just by chance? You can feed Africa all the super-bananas you want, it won’t make one bit of difference. Rhodesia used to be a very rich country, with plenty of food … but what is it, now? Super-bananas cannot do anything to combat this. This is Africa.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on June 16, 2014 at 8:14 PM

Hey, this sounds like an Obama strawman! Benevolent GMO scientists vs. sociopathic GMO-haters. Could it be that there’s middle ground? Could some GMO products be lifesavers, but others dangerous?
Why do some people fear GMOs? Because companies have fought so hard against labeling, for one. Can’t we have golden rice and labels so we can make informed choices?

Mary_Katherine5 on June 16, 2014 at 8:16 PM

Thank you Erika for this wonderful report on Bananas. I look forward to eating them at my local supermarket.

coolrepublica on June 16, 2014 at 8:19 PM

I have a patent pending for genetically modified stinky tofu that smells like cherry blossoms. I’ll probably get rich from it.

DarkCurrent on June 16, 2014 at 8:20 PM

Can you make booze out of them?

Flange on June 16, 2014 at 8:22 PM

GMO’s or DDT at this point what a difference they could make!

tim c on June 16, 2014 at 8:23 PM

rogerb on June 16, 2014 at 8:09 PM

Genetically Modified Super Banana??

Yer gonna go there????

Brilliant!!!

But who will get there first???

It’s on!!!!

BigWyo on June 16, 2014 at 8:23 PM

Erica I do think this is ridiculous.
However, Scientific American’s use of “life years” seems suspicious. To combine death and disability into one made up parameter covers the actual, concrete statistics. This is a serious issue and the numbers should be accurate.
BTW, love that song.

hopeful on June 16, 2014 at 8:23 PM

Can you make booze out of them?

Flange on June 16, 2014 at 8:22 PM

Bananas are smoked. Keep an eye out for coolrepubica smoking them at his local supermarket.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on June 16, 2014 at 8:24 PM

All references to woody allen movie…..as for me give me an an apple a day…..no alar pleasr

jaywemm on June 16, 2014 at 8:24 PM

I’m allergic to bananas.

NotCoach on June 16, 2014 at 8:26 PM

Generic NE Liberal “Well, it’s nice they’re doing something for ‘those people’ again…it’s been awhile since that kind of thing was in the headlines…”

BigWyo on June 16, 2014 at 8:27 PM

One single thing would change all the thinking on GMO food AND healthcare overnight: A “polio vaccine-like” cure for cancer.

If cancer was curable with one treatment, or even a simple series of treatments, health care costs would plunge and peoples’ resistance to advancements like GMO foods would evaporate.

80% of the healthcare fears and 99% of the GMO fears are all linked to cancer fear. Solve that and you solve many other seemingly unrelated problems.

Whitewolf7070 on June 16, 2014 at 8:31 PM

GMO?!?!

Monsanto!!
Koch!!
!1!!ELEVENTY!1!!

Chickyraptor on June 16, 2014 at 8:32 PM

Oh this IS a story about bananas ?
I thought it was a story about …..carry on :O

burrata on June 16, 2014 at 8:34 PM

Whatever. The corrupt governments of Africa will simply seize all of the SUPER-bananas grown, and export them for profit – the starving will continue to starve.

Stupid-SUPER-banana-plan.

Pork-Chop on June 16, 2014 at 8:34 PM

This is just Bananas!!

canopfor on June 16, 2014 at 8:36 PM

rogerb on June 16, 2014 at 8:09 PM

Lolz! ; )

Bmore on June 16, 2014 at 8:37 PM

I’m allergic to bananas.

NotCoach on June 16, 2014 at 8:26 PM

Really?

Bmore on June 16, 2014 at 8:38 PM

Pork-Chop on June 16, 2014 at 8:34 PM

Don’t forget the UN personnel in charge of the sooper-bananas using them to buy sex from little kids and hungry girls. The UN perverts are never far behind the food. There’s nothing a demented, leftist pervert likes more than a starving population and a warehouse full of sooper-bananas!

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on June 16, 2014 at 8:38 PM

Just as long as they don’t cross pollinate with the trusty banana that I’ve eaten all these years and enjoy. Is it safe to say that the bats ( I think it’s bats that pollinate bananas ) won’t cross pollinate all the bananas into one flavor?

Buddahpundit on June 16, 2014 at 8:39 PM

Really?

Bmore on June 16, 2014 at 8:38 PM

Yep. Most likely a crossover from ragweed fever.

Wiki:

Cross reactions

Allergies to a specific pollen are usually associated with OAS reactions to other certain foods. For instance, an allergy to ragweed is associated with OAS reactions to banana, watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, zucchini, and cucumber. This does not mean that all sufferers of an allergy to ragweed will experience adverse effects from all or even any of these foods. Reactions may be associated with one type of food, with new reactions to other foods developing later. However, reaction to one or more foods in any given category does not necessarily mean a person is allergic to all foods in that group.

Alder pollen: almonds, apples, celery, cherries, hazel nuts, peaches, pears, parsley, strawberry, raspberry

Birch pollen: almonds, apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, carrots, celery, cherries, chicory,[11] coriander, fennel, fig, hazel nuts, kiwifruit, nectarines, parsley, parsnips, peaches, pears, peppers, plums, potatoes, prunes, soy, strawberries, wheat; Potential: walnuts

Grass pollen: fig, melons, tomatoes, oranges

Mugwort pollen : carrots, celery, coriander, fennel, parsley, peppers, sunflower

Ragweed pollen : banana, cantaloupe, cucumber, green pepper, paprika, sunflower seeds/oil, honeydew, watermelon, zucchini, echinacea, artichoke, dandelions, honey (if bees pollinate from wild flowers), hibiscus or chamomile tea

Possible cross-reactions (to any of the above): berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, etc), citrus (oranges, lemons, etc), grapes, mango, figs, peanut, pineapple, pomegranates, watermelon

NotCoach on June 16, 2014 at 8:41 PM

Just as long as they don’t cross pollinate with the trusty banana that I’ve eaten all these years and enjoy. Is it safe to say that the bats ( I think it’s bats that pollinate bananas ) won’t cross pollinate all the bananas into one flavor

Most bananas white people eat are all the same flavor and varietal.

antisense on June 16, 2014 at 8:44 PM

All modern foods have been genetically modified. A cow, a pig, a chicken, and wheat and corn and rice, for example, are nothing like they would have been just 2000 years ago. And people better be thankful they’re not. Going back further to 20,000 years a lot of us would have either been stomped to death by the domestic cow’s forefathers (aurochs) or would have starved to death watching wheat that’s not drought resistant dry up and blow away.

Ruckus_Tom on June 16, 2014 at 8:53 PM

Oddly, what has been let out of this GMO-saves-the-day story is that the target market for that wonderful Golden Rice has refused to eat it; they want white rice. The nearly total failure of this altruistic gene-splicing project was due to the failure to overcome food prejudices much more than to any anti-GMO movement.

Wouldn’t be surprised if the same is true for Super Bananas too.

And what is not addressed at all is that famine, malnutrition and deficiency disorders are political issues in the Third World, not agricultural ones. Until the problem of strongmen and tribal conflicts can be resolved, no superfood will be any more useful than the bags of powdered milk and cornmeal we ship to Africa now.

Dolce Far Niente on June 16, 2014 at 8:54 PM

Most bananas white people eat are all the same flavor

antisense on June 16, 2014 at 8:44 PM

That’s generally true of everything pink people consume, troll.

DarkCurrent on June 16, 2014 at 8:56 PM

Most bananas white people eat are all the same flavor and varietal.

antisense on June 16, 2014 at 8:44 PM

“White people”?

Pork-Chop on June 16, 2014 at 8:57 PM

Most bananas white people eat are all the same flavor

 
Dibs on next open registration.

rogerb on June 16, 2014 at 9:04 PM

NotCoach on June 16, 2014 at 8:41 PM

Bummer. I have a friend who swears, better life through chemistry. I presume you have tried that route to no avail. Dang NotCoach, that sucks!

Bmore on June 16, 2014 at 9:44 PM

rogerb on June 16, 2014 at 9:04 PM

rogerb, if you see a commenter by the nom Toocon, would you share with him your animated google search thingy please. Thanks. ; )

Bmore on June 16, 2014 at 9:45 PM

This is just Bananas!!

canopfor on June 16, 2014 at 8:36 PM

It has a certain a-peel o_O

JetBoy on June 16, 2014 at 9:46 PM

Considering the Democratic Republic of Congo, they’ll probably find a way to kill each other with them.

vlad martel on June 16, 2014 at 9:49 PM

Bummer. I have a friend who swears, better life through chemistry. I presume you have tried that route to no avail. Dang NotCoach, that sucks!

Bmore on June 16, 2014 at 9:44 PM

I’ve never made much of an effort to deal with my hay fever or ragweed fever. They aren’t debilitating or life threatening. And the reaction I have to bananas (raw carrots as well) is nothing more than a mild nuisance.

NotCoach on June 16, 2014 at 10:01 PM

If they grew them in Chad they could rename them hanging or dangling Chad fruit.

Flange on June 16, 2014 at 10:04 PM

Basically, these nutjobs whipped up a bunch of phantom fears about the infinitesimally possible long-term health effects of GMOs, with the direct result that millions of children around the world were denied the relatively simple means of preventing fatal nutritional deficiencies.

But who is stopping them from adopting the use of Golden Rice? No one.

Who is stopping them from instead purchasing and using inexpensive vitamin A as a supplement or injection? No one.

Who is stopping these countries from abandoning many backward and ignorant practices that are harmful to health and longevity? No one.

They are making their own choices. It’s called national sovereignty.

They are making their own choice. Many people have legitimate concerns about Frankenfoods, designer children, etc. It isn’t all just Lefty conspiracy-mongering or self-interested greedy organic food peddlers. Also, Monsanto really is evil.

Toocon on June 16, 2014 at 10:09 PM

Thank you Erika for this wonderful report on Bananas. I look forward to eating them at my local supermarket.

coolrepublica on June 16, 2014 at 8:19 PM

Coolpubica and bananas…

jimver on June 16, 2014 at 10:11 PM

Genetically modified super bananas might end up saving millions of lives….

….but they can also be very hazardous.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VfrShu_Lp2A

mrt721 on June 16, 2014 at 10:14 PM

Toocon on June 16, 2014 at 10:09 PM

Of course. The entire article is dishonest shilling for corrupt corporate agribusiness, which couldn’t care less about saving peoples’ lives. Just the opposite — they’re actively poisoning people. But “look, we’re saving the Democratic Republic of Congo, if we can just stop them from their insane orgy of rape and violence.”

vlad martel on June 16, 2014 at 10:14 PM

All food has been genetically modified – it is the method of the modification that seems to be the problem for a few science-challenged people. Using natural selection is a long process and it is a hit-or-miss process. It takes years, using natural selection, to arrive at the desired modification (mutation). Now, because of our increased knowledge of genetics, the genes can be spliced and the specific genetic mutation can be forced and the change happens in one generation and produces seed which does not always work out so well with natural selection. Plants have been cloned for years as well and cloning is used to get the GM desired as well. Once the changes have been affected and the seed produces fruit or meat as desired, it cannot be any more cancer-causing than the original plant/food source. The low information liberal will get all wound around the axle about this but scream if serious scientist refuse to cow down to the religion of global warming. It is a shame when science can help so many of the poor, starving people of Africa and South America and then want to drive this country into matching the 3rd world countries economically because of their false gods, Gore and Obama.

evie1949 on June 16, 2014 at 10:23 PM

Yeah, sure. By the way, Huxley spoke well on this issue….

http://www.huxley.net/bnw-revisited/

In an underdeveloped and over-populated country, where four-fifths of the people get less than two thou­sand calories a day and one-fifth enjoys an adequate diet, can democratic institutions arise spontaneously? Or if they should be imposed from outside or from above, can they possibly survive?

And now let us consider the case of the rich, industrialized and democratic society, in which, owing to the random but effective practice of dysgenics, IQ’s and physical vigor are on the decline. For how long can such a society maintain its traditions of individual liberty and democratic government? Fifty or a hundred years from now our children will learn the answer to this question.

Meanwhile we find ourselves confronted by a most disturbing moral problem. We know that the pursuit of good ends does not justify the employment of bad means. But what about those situations, now of such frequent occurrence, in which good means have end results which turn out to be bad?

For example, we go to a tropical island and with the aid of DDT we stamp out malaria and, in two or three years, save hundreds of thousands of lives. This is obviously good. But the hundreds of thousands of hu­man beings thus saved, and the millions whom they beget and bring to birth, cannot be adequately clothed, housed, educated or even fed out of the island’s availa­ble resources. Quick death by malaria has been abol­ished; but life made miserable by undernourishment and over-crowding is now the rule, and slow death by outright starvation threatens ever greater numbers.

And what about the congenitally insufficient organ­isms, whom our medicine and our social services now preserve so that they may propagate their kind? To help the unfortunate is obviously good. But the whole­sale transmission to our descendants of the results of unfavorable mutations, and the progressive contamina­tion of the genetic pool from which the members of our species will have to draw, are no less obviously bad. We are on the horns of an ethical dilemma, and to find the middle way will require all our intelligence and all our good will.

Somehow I doubt that last part is happening.

vlad martel on June 16, 2014 at 10:28 PM

NotCoach on June 16, 2014 at 10:01 PM

I glad its only those two items. When I saw the list, I saw, all of the good stuff you might never enjoy. I love everything and consume everything on the list, sans the pomegranates. I find them highly over rated. ; )

Bmore on June 16, 2014 at 10:32 PM

But “look, we’re saving the Democratic Republic of Congo, if we can just stop them from their insane orgy of rape and violence.” – vlad martel at 10:14 PM

They are free people. They have educated people in the sciences (if they listen to them).

Gene-splicing makes a lot of people nervous. And it should.

And it is not just lack of vitamin A that kills a lot of people in these countries. I would abolish animism, witch doctors, paganism, Islam, and many other things that kill a lot of people in the Third World, a lot more than die from lack of vitamin A.

But I am not the Boss Of Them. Nor should I be. The ability to choose, even to choose wrongly, is essential to liberty and the dignity of the individual.

We can and should offer help, provide education. But we can’t make their choices for them like some globetrotting Do-Gooders Gone Wild.

Toocon on June 16, 2014 at 10:34 PM

Evil capitalist bio-chemical companies could care less if they kill off all their customers with GMO-tainted food. Got it.

Knott Buyinit on June 16, 2014 at 10:38 PM

We can and should offer help, provide education. But we can’t make their choices for them like some globetrotting Do-Gooders Gone Wild.

Toocon on June 16, 2014 at 10:34 PM

It’s just useful idiot propaganda for agribusiness.

vlad martel on June 16, 2014 at 10:39 PM

Evil capitalist bio-chemical companies could care less if they kill off all their customers with GMO-tainted food. Got it.

Knott Buyinit on June 16, 2014 at 10:38 PM

“Smoking cigarettes doesn’t cause lung cancer.”

– various noble captains of industry before they got busted and bought into food production

vlad martel on June 16, 2014 at 10:40 PM

I have o problem with GM food producers and R&D companies selling their product. What really gets my goat is when big companies like Monsanto threaten Armageddon on small-time farmers just because of the mere possibility that some Monsanto crops cross-pollinated with the small farmers’ crops.

Free market YES, patent trolls NO!

NorthernCross on June 16, 2014 at 10:41 PM

It’s just useful idiot propaganda for agribusiness.

No, it’s not. They do have good intentions. But they cannot be allowed to ram their charity down people’s throats. Doing that to other human beings turns them into something like a farm animal.

Dignity. Sovereignty. The right to be wrong, even terribly wrong.

The results of this can be heartbreaking. But we have to respect the dignity of the individual. Persuade, not compel.

There is something about these efforts that are quite close to the eugenics movement from a century ago, people like Margaret Sanger. We should not repeat those misguided attempts to improve the lot of the human race that led to so much tragedy during the Twenties and Thirties and culminating during WW II and, here in America, the continuing genocide of abortion which is the most prominent modern remnant of the old eugenics movement.

Toocon on June 16, 2014 at 10:48 PM

Toocon on June 16, 2014 at 10:48 PM

Yeah, you should read “Brave New World Revisited.”

vlad martel on June 16, 2014 at 10:55 PM

Like most sequels, kinda lame even though I liked it at the time. I re-read it later and thought it lame. Maybe because poor Huxley went down the dreary dead end road of Hinduism before he wrote the sequel.

You might check H. G. Wells’ Men Like Gods. It apparently inspired Huxley’s first book.

Huxley ripped off a book by Bertrand Russell for Brave New World. A little later, Kurt Vonnegut ripped off Huxley’s book and bragged about it.

Toocon on June 16, 2014 at 11:52 PM

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on June 16, 2014 at 8:14 PM PM
Great point. Africa is a rich continent. It’s politics make it destitute.

virgo on June 17, 2014 at 1:28 AM

NorthernCross on June 16, 2014 at 10:41 PM

That is a widely reported but incorrect reading of the GM soybean cases that Monsanto in particular has been accused. I have no love for agri-business. They along with do-gooders in the US Dept of Ag came up with the current food pyramid and the war on fats, which is exactly opposite of what it should be. The food pyramid is a great diabetes incubator and more fats – of the right type – would do us all a bunch of good.

If you read the cases, farmers have tried to actually utilize the cross pollination of GM fields onto their own fields so as to then use the subsequent seeds to plant their field themselves. Thus, they are taking the copyrighted GM technology and using it while not paying Monsanto. I have read of a few of those cases and while I am sure there are others, it seems this is less of Monsanto being mean to small farmers and more of small farmers trying to steal Monsanto’s technology.

So Monsanto gets a bad rap for trying to protect its technology, while farmers try and use the GM crop without paying for the advance.

Zomcon JEM on June 17, 2014 at 8:26 AM

All modern foods have been genetically modified. A cow, a pig, a chicken, and wheat and corn and rice, for example, are nothing like they would have been just 2000 years ago. And people better be thankful they’re not. Going back further to 20,000 years a lot of us would have either been stomped to death by the domestic cow’s forefathers (aurochs) or would have starved to death watching wheat that’s not drought resistant dry up and blow away.

Ruckus_Tom on June 16, 2014 at 8:53 PM

That’s not genetic engineering…that’s genetic manipulation of pre-existing genes…mixing and matching in order to produce a desired result. Some of it isn’t even that. Burbank used mass selection of plants and his workers merely picked out the seeds of those (naturally occurring) individuals that had the most desirable traits.

Guess the next thing will be wheat or corn that has been GM’d to make its own Viagra or female hormones that cause women to develop with perfect 36-24-36 proportions. Or maybe chemicals like Antabuse because the PTB don’t want you drinking.

Also, the “Green Revolution” types learned the hard way in Africa that planting all the same variety leads to disaster when disease moves through. Genetic variability is what insures the greatest probability of survival. As we modify living species, you can bet that those parasites that thrive upon them will be modified in kind in order to keep up…so to speak…but that will occur naturally.

Such things are full of unintended consequences. Mary Shelley pointed that out over a hundred years ago in her book Frankenstein.

Dr. ZhivBlago on June 17, 2014 at 9:33 AM

SAVE THE MONKEYS! (whales are so yesterday)

Shy Guy on June 17, 2014 at 11:13 AM