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Transgenic super bananas: denounce biopiracy and lack of ethics

Transgenic super bananas: denounce biopiracy and lack of ethics

By Anastasia Gubin

James Dale, the lead researcher of the project, announced on June 6, 2014 that he began "the world's first human trial of the pro-vitamin enriched banana" (transgenic), and justified it by saying that with this "it is expected to increase the health and well-being of millions of Ugandans and other Africans ””.

In response, many African farmers joined forces not to give up their land to transnationals. Their fears are not only the health effects, and the increased contamination of water and land by costly pesticides, but the lack of ethics surrounding the proposal. While on the new continent, Queensland's experimenting with Iowa students did not go unnoticed by university students.

Last February, ISU graduate students submitted 57,309 signatures with a petition to end human experimentation to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at their university, where Queensland conducts the tests, and members of the AGRA campaign. Watch offered the same document to the headquarters of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in Seattle.

"The study is not being conducted in a transparent manner, and members of the ISU community have not received responses about the research design, risks, the nature of informed consent given by stakeholders, and the generalizability of the study." said the Agra Watch team, a campaign of the international association Community Alliance for Global Justice, which defends Ugandan farmers and neighboring countries, of the Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) project, a subsidiary of the Gates Foundation, which it opposes.

Dr. David Schubert, a molecular biologist at the prestigious laboratory complex of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, which serves as a scientific reference for the whole world, concluded that what the University of Queensland and the ISU do, “is unethical and immoral. , mainly because there are several varieties of banana of natural origin that are safe and have higher levels of beta carotene than the genetically modified varieties ”, according to the AGRA Watch report. Schubert is one of the many voices that recommends the species of bananas that have already been produced hundreds of years ago, and that contain more provitamin than the one proposed by James Dale and the Gates Foundation, in addition to a healthy diet of many other local products.

The genes of the modified banana were taken from a species of the F'ai type, which is cultivated thanks to the effort of hundreds of years of local tradition by the farmers of Papua New Guinea, and of which there are numerous varieties spread throughout the country. world, believed to have originated from this area. For this reason, the “super banana” project was defined by the AGRA Watch team as “a clear example of biopiracy”, according to statements collected by The Ecologist.

The previous study published by the University of Queensland confirms that they isolated the genes of the F'ei banana from Papua New Guinea, a reddish-orange species characterized by its high carotene content.

When the biologist David Schubert pointed out that there are other unmodified bananas with better properties than the super banana, he surely referred to the F'ei banana and other similar species that have spread throughout the world, which were even mentioned by the Fao, in their February 2016 article.

The FAO, the United Nations Organization that deals with Food and Agriculture in the world, on that date highlighted that F'ei are “delicious” bananas, and that they contain around 200 times more carotenoids, provitamin A (7 124 micrograms per 100 g of fresh banana) than the commercial white Cavendish banana (with only 38 micrograms per 100 g of sweet banana). In addition to being biologically grown, they tend to be resistant to many pests and diseases, requiring little attention.

Transgenic bananas incorporate the gene for type F'ei banana in the Cavendish variety, a non-organically grown variety that has dominated international trade since the last century and threatens local banana production. His opponents warn that this project follows a model similar to the failed Golden Rice, also on the grounds of solving hunger by adding beta-carotene.

Sanitary problem

Schubert explains that artificial administration of excess betcarotene needs to be considered with more caution. "Beta carotene is chemically related to compounds that are known to cause birth defects and other problems in humans." This can happen when it occurs at extreme levels, on an unbalanced diet.

Noting that there are already studies that endorse it, the specialist also questions the probable "toxic chemicals" that result from the by-products of genetically engineered plants in general.

"Since there is no safety test for banana or any other GMO, doing a feeding trial on people, especially women, should not be allowed," added the biologist.

Who are the beneficiaries?

Another problem related to the forced introduction of the modified Cavendish species in Uganda was recently highlighted in a British report by Global Justice Now, in the report entitled "Gated Development". The author details how "large companies benefit directly, particularly in agriculture and health, as a result of the activities of the Gates Foundation." Projects such as the super banana and others developed in Africa by this organization would not be seeking to provide a real solution to the needs of the inhabitants.

The AGRA Watch agriculture team pointed out that in Uganda there are other varieties of banana that serve as a staple in diets. The fact that healthy eating cannot be based on a single monoculture is recognized by science. "Ugandans have the right to have access to healthy, nutritious and culturally appropriate food," he clarified.

• Insectisides and chemical fertilizers from bananas pollute rivers

An ethical problem

When the University of Quensland announced that it began its first human trial, it received a response from the African Association AFSA, in a public letter sent by its attorneys to Wendy S. White, who is conducting the tests at the University of Iowa, and to its Review director. Board.

AFSA explained that in addition to the ethical and health problem, ironically the consumption of transgenic banana monoculture would cause a more pronounced drop in vitamin A in Africans, since the varied diet of the rest of the vegetables and fruits, which are precisely rich in vitamin A, and essential for human health, also for its other vitamins, minerals and energy sources.

“These crops divert resources that should go towards more suitable agricultural solutions at the local level. If indeed the objective of those involved in promoting the project is really to combat vitamin A deficiency, then surely they should promote the consumption of more of the various fruits and foods, such as sweet potatoes, which are rich in vitamin A and which are found in abundance in Africa ”.

Lawyers for the AFSA gathered the signatures of more than a hundred associations, accompanied by letters previously written by scientists denouncing the dangers of genetically modified products, with a petition to end human food testing. Hundreds of other scientists also opposed these experiments.

What became clear is that there is no consensus to say that GMOs are safe, as claimed by biotechnology companies that support transnational commercial companies, such as Monsanto.

“There is no consensus that transgenic crops are safe for human consumption,” the scientists pointed out from the beginning of the signature collection. They clarified that "most of the research carried out by independent scientists on transgenic crops directly contradicts the results of studies sponsored by the biotechnology industry that say there is no evidence of risk or harm."

Referring to the ethical problem, deununciated by the biologist David Schubert and other scientists, Ahna Kruzic, a graduate of the University of Iowa, specialist in sustainable agriculture and sociology, along with Angie Carter and Rivka Fide, highlighted in the Foodfirst blog, last July , that ISU students have the privilege of asking questions and deserve the opportunity to engage in high-level academic dialogue.

"This privilege forces us to ask tough questions about the ethical dimensions of this GMO banana research process, as well as its impacts and other viable alternatives," they wrote.

In fact - they explained - these questions were already written last year by ISU graduate students, and the topics they cover question “how the study was carried out” and “the potential effects that GMO bananas could have on food systems. from Uganda ”.

“The questions are not about whether the use of biotechnology is morally right or wrong, or whether the researchers are good or bad people. At their core, these questions are about the social, economic and environmental impacts that this type of research will have on real people in real places. Hunger and malnutrition are not only biological challenges, but social problems rooted in inequality ”.

University students have already received some responses from ISU officials, pointing out that they only repeat that it will help save lives. These statements - they explained - “are premature, and are a smokescreen to deflect questions from students. These claims are not made in a grounded way.

The questions that were left unanswered were the following, according to Kruzic, Carter and Fide:

• How does the nutrition of GMO bananas impact hunger in Uganda, or how does the ISU and / or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation affect it?

• How was technology determined to be a culturally appropriate intervention?

• Who will own or control this technology in its development?

• How should public universities be involved in GMO biofortification and experimentation?

The Epoch Times


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