banana

A test group of Americans will be eating genetically modified bananas, enhanced to defeat deadly vitamin A deficiencies in the developing world.

Over a six-week period, the American test group will eat the fruit that scientists are aiming to begin planting in Uganda by the year 2020 to prevent deaths from vitamin A deficiencies. Hundreds of thousands of lives are lost each year to vitamin A deficiencies.

“The consequences of vitamin A deficiency are dire with 650,000-700,000 children worldwide dying…each year and at least another 300,000 going blind,”Professor James Dale, who is leading the Bill and Melinda Gates funded banana project at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, stated.

Throughout East Africa, bananas are a dietary staple, and the genetically modified bananas would help improve the nutritional value of the crop, the scientists state.

“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,” Dale said.

“We know our science will work,” Dale said. “We made all the constructs, the genes that went into bananas, and put them into bananas here at QUT.”

But critics of the genetically modified banana say it’s not as simple as pumping a fruit full of vitamins, and compare it to genetically modified Golden Rice, engineered to do the same thing as the banana. It was positioned as being able to save a million lives per year, but the reality has been far different.

And testing the GMO bananas on Americans who have vastly different dietary and lifestyle factors than people in East Africa may also provide misleading results. Dr Helen Wallace, of GeneWatch, told the Independent: “There is evidence that too much beta-carotene can be cancerous so what happens when people who are not vitamin A deficient eat this crop? There are more effective solutions to these issues such as targeted supplements and diversification of crops. These trials have no way of establishing whether these changes are beneficial rather than harmful in the long term.”

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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