The Hawaii state Department of Agriculture is trying to green light GMO banana trials in the islands. An item on the 10/27 DOA board meeting agenda reads: Request to allow the importation of Genetically Modified Tissue-Cultured Banana Plants, by permit, for greenhouse and field research on resistance to banana bunchy top virus, by the University of Hawaii at Manoa; and establish permit conditions for greenhouse and field research.
The plan is opposed by Hector Valenzuela, of the Dept. of Plant & Environmental Protection Sciences, CTAHR, UH-Manoa. He points out – “Even though banana is propagated asexually, extensive contamination is likely to occur in the state though mechanical means (people sharing propagating materials– called suckers or keikis– with friends, or neighbors. GMO Rainbow papaya shows that UH and GMO papaya farmers have been incapable to contain GMOs within the boundary of their farms resulting in the widespread contamination and genetic pollution of non-GMO areas throughout the state.
“Research needs to be conducted to determine potential health, environmental, economic, and social impacts from the release of a GMO banana variety in Hawaii. According to previous statements made by the only Crop Disease Epidemiologist in the state, alternative management practices are available to manage most or all diseases affecting horticultural crops in Hawaii.”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have been pushing the development of GMO bananas.
In January US Today reported that: “A plan to have Iowa State University students eat genetically modified bananas has been delayed, apparently because of issues in shipping the fruit. The bananas, created by an Australian scientist, James Dale, contain a gene that is supposed to help people living in Africa produce vitamin A.
Iowa State researchers sent an e-mail to students last summer seeking a dozen female volunteers for the study. Food science professor Wendy White said then that the volunteers would be paid $900 to eat the equivalent of three bananas each as part of a short-term, prescribed diet. Just one of the bananas would be the genetically modified type. Blood tests would be used to determine the body’s reaction.
Last month, the group African Centre for Biosafety decried the plan to eventually ship the genetically modified bananas to Uganda and other African countries. “Just because the GM banana has been developed in Australia and is being tested in the U.S. does not make it super!” Ugandan activist Bridget Mugambe wrote in a news release. “Ugandans know what is super because we have been eating homegrown GM-free bananas for centuries. This GM banana is an insult to our food, to our culture, to us a nation, and we strongly condemn it.”
Iowa State was chosen to conduct the trial because no independent Australian lab was available to do the work and analyze the results.
A recently released, redacted copy of the initial “informed consent document” that ISU lead researcher Wendy White gave to students didn’t mention that the GMO banana has never been approved as safe to eat by any regulatory agency anywhere in the world, that there have been documented human health risks associated with some GMOs or that there is no consensus on the safety of GMOs.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is supporting the project financially. Jim Lorenzen, a senior program officer for the Gates Foundation, said the foundation expects the research to continue. “The Gates Foundation continues to support the Banana21 project, which is helping find ways to tackle vitamin A deficiency.”
Well it turns out nature already provides us with a banana rich in Vitamin A!
The Mantasa organization, which works on edible wild plants to combat malnutrition in Indonesia as well as to preserve biodiversity and traditional knowledge, has strongly objected to GMO banana production.
Mantasa has posted: “The Gates Foundation has invested 15 million dollars in Dr James Dale’s GMO so-called ‘super-bananas.’The project is being touted as philanthropy with a humanitarian purpose in combating micronutrient deficiency. It is however a clear case of biopiracy.
“Fe’i bananas (Musa troglodytarum L.) are a traditional food across the Asia-Pacific, found in an area ranging from Maluku in Indonesia to Tahiti and Hawaii in the Pacific. In 1788, Daniel Solander, accompanying botanist Joseph Banks and James Cook on the voyage of the Endeavour, noted several varieties of Fe’i bananas used in Tahiti.
“Artist Paul Gauguin’s paintings Le Repas (The Meal), La Orana Maria (The Virgin Mary) and Tahitian Landscape, painted in 1891, depict these red-orange bananas. In Indonesia they are known as pisang tongkat langit (sky cane bananas) because of the distinctive upright fruiting stem.
“In the early 2000’s US researcher Lois Englberger, living in Micronesia, after searching for sources of vitamin A in the traditional diet in Micronesia, found that Micronesian ‘Karat’ bananas (a local version of Fe’i bananas) – so called because of their orange flesh and high beta-carotene content – had been traditionally used as an infant weaning food.
“Few scientists were aware that there were orange fleshed bananas high in beta-carotene or that bananas could be used for addressing vitamin A deficiency
“Englberger’s work included nutritional surveying of pacific banana cultivars in Australia held in collection by the Queensland Department of Primary Industries collected 25 years earlier from Papua New Guinea, including the Asupina variety from which Dr Dale has taken the banana gene for beta-carotene. The Asupina is not a wild variety as Dr Dale has claimed – it is a domesticated cultivar from Papua New Guinea.
“We do not need to waste time and millions on GMOs when we have viable existing solutions that are based on biodiversity and available right now. Dr Dale’s globe trotting GMO bananas are a globe trotting case of biopiracy. Their gene for beta-carotene comes from the PNG Asupina variety. The traditional knowledge they have used comes from Micronesia and Englberger’s work.”
Indian farming activist Vandana Shiva concludes: “First the GMO industry said they would reduce chemical use through Bt-Ht GMOs that were supposed to control pests and weeds. Chemical use increased, and GMO Bt cotton is plagued by pests, herbicide tolerant crops are being overtaken by super weeds.
“The industry is now trying to save itself with the promise of GMO “super bananas” to deal with Vit A deficiency. We don’t need more false claims of GMOs based on piracy of indigenous biodiversity and knowledge. The GMO banana project based on biopiracy must stop”.