Would you eat three bananas for $900? That’s the question scientists asked 12 women in Iowa.
They’re developing specially designed GMO bananas with large amounts of beta carotene, a nutrient our body uses to produce vitamin A. The scientists are hoping the GMO bananas will be grown in Uganda where vitamin A deficiency contributes to the high childhood death rate.
To get them approved for human consumption, researchers must prove their GMO creations have a similar nutrient and toxin content to natural bananas and that they’re safe to eat.
The new GMO banana was created by researchers at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia who combined Cavendish sweet bananas with the common banana.
Residents of Uganda don’t like the naturally sweet Cavendish banana, so scientists combined it with the less sweet banana commonly used in African cooking.
The GMO research was paid for by funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Iowa State University food science professor Wendy White is leading the research to study whether the new GMO bananas are safe to eat, according to the SFGate.
“In Uganda and other African countries, vitamin A deficiency is a major contributor to deaths in childhood from infectious diseases. Wouldn’t it be great if these bananas could prevent preschool kids from dying from diarrhea, malaria or measles?”
White and her ISU colleagues selected 12 women out of 500 applicants to eat three bananas over four days and undergo blood tests; only one of the fruits is genetically modified.
Not everyone thinks the genetic creations are a good idea.
Earlier this month, activists presented a petition with 57,000 signatures to ISU officials and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in an attempt to halt the GMO study they say is dangerous, reports the Des Moines Register.
“ISU students are being asked to be the first to consume a product of unknown safety. The study is not being conducted in a transparent manner, and concerned ISU community members have not been able to receive answers about the research, design, risks, nature of the informed consent given by the subjects and the generalization of the study.”
Beta carotene is closely related to certain chemicals that cause birth defects and activists worry the creation of these GMO bananas will harm the very people Bill and Melinda Gates are trying to help, reports The Ecologist.
“The need for this Vitamin A rich GM banana is clearly assumed, and may sadly end up destroying a food that is at the very core of our social fabric.”
Activists also claim the creation of the GMO banana amounts to bio-piracy as the sweet Cavendish bananas used in the modification were originally grown in Papua New Guinea, residents there have been offered no compensation.
Critics also point to the original Cavendish banana’s tendency to grow fungus as an important reason not to introduce it as Uganda’s main food source.
The sweet GMO banana project is similar to the golden rice that was genetically manufactured to be high in beta carotene. The genetically modified food was given free to subsistence farmers in developing countries, but activists opposed its distribution claiming it was unhealthy. A large trial using children in China turned into a national controversy.
No government in the world has approved widespread use of golden rice.
What do you think? Would you switch to GMO foods if they contained more nutrients than normal fruits and vegetables?
[Photo by Bruno Vincent/Getty Images]