Genetically modified super bananas might end up saving millions of lives

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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