Much real estate on this blog has been devoted to extolling the scientifically proven safety and morally indispensible qualities of GMOs, and much shade cast by your writer at the religious shareholder activists acting to curtail or eliminate GMO use.
No legitimate scientific research has proven GMOs unsafe, and the promise GMOs hold for feeding the world’s poorest is extraordinary. Why, then, the reservations of such progressive groups as As You Sow and Green America? Could it be they simply are intent on being a fly in the ointment of corporations responsible for bringing GM seeds resistant to drought, pests and pesticides to market?
The previous question was prompted by actions by student activists at Iowa State University. As reported by Julie Kelly in the Wall Street Journal, ISU students collected more than 57,000 signatures for a petition opposing human-feeding trials that paid $900 to students willing to eat fortified superbananas for four days. The superbananas contain copious amounts of beta carotene, which the human digestive system converts to Vitamin A – as in: the letter “A” that stands for “Absolutely necessary for preventing blindness and other inconvenient Third World problems not quite prevalent on the ISU West Lawn.
However, blindness, stunting and deaths resulting from Vitamin A deficiencies are prevalent in Uganda. Notes Kelly: “40 percent of children under age 5 are vitamin-A deficient, according to a 2011 health survey by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics.” To which the ISU students respond: “Tough beans, no superbananas for you, Uganda.” The ISU students also submitted their petition to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, “which is investing more than $2 billion to improve agriculture in the developing world, including through the banana project.”
Are ISU students privy to GMO knowledge that somehow escaped the rest of the scientific community? Are they concerned superbananas will turn the Third World into another version The Island of Doctor Moreau? Is it environmental concerns? If only we could get a glimpse of what motivates the ISU Cassandras, if only they could reveal why on Earth superbananas are costing them precious sleep. Oh, wait, Kelly provides their stated rationalization from an opinion piece that Kelly quotes from the Ames Tribune:
‘While we can all support the rights of Ugandans to have access to safe, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food, Ugandans have expressed increasing concern that genetically-modifying bananas are not meant to serve that purpose,’ a group of students wrote in the Ames Tribune. ‘Instead, many suspect the GM bananas to be an attempt to corporately capture the domestic seed market.’
So there you have it, dear readers: Superbananas are part of a multinational corporate conspiracy to capture Uganda’s lucrative fruit market. Do the ISU students behind this protest actually envision Bill Gates twirling his mustache while Melinda Gates wears a Dalmatian fur coat and snarls: “That company that controls the seeds, controls the country’s economy”? Continues Kelly:
They sound like they’re trying to save an organic garden in Berkeley. “Those students are acting out of ignorance,” Jerome Kubiriba, the head of the National Banana Research Program in Uganda, tells me. “It’s one thing to read about malnutrition; it’s another to have a child who is constantly falling sick yet, due to limited resources, the child cannot get immediate and constant medical care. If they knew the truth about the need for vitamin A and other nutrients for children in Uganda and Africa, they’d get a change of heart.”
He’s more optimistic than I am. Genetically engineered crops are anathema to the far left. An article last year in the Ecologist called the fortified bananas “a globe-trotting case of biopiracy,” and said the project’s secret ambition is profit—“to enter the international banana trade, setting itself up as the United Fruit of the 21st Century.” A field-trial in Uganda of a different genetically modified banana, one designed to resist wilt, is protected by barbed-wire fences and security guards. Three years ago in the Philippines anti-GMO protesters destroyed fields of vitamin A-enhanced Golden Rice.
This is madness, and ISU students, Green America and As You Sow should know better.