The banana is a staple of the East African diet. About 70 percent of the Ugandan population survive on the fruit. Unfortunately, it has low levels of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), particularly vitamin A, deficiencies of which cause hundreds of thousands of African children to die or lose their sight each year.
Enter genetic improvement. Queensland University of Technology (QUT) have engineered bananas with increased levels of beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A in the body. The hope is that this genetically improved food (GIF) banana could be grown in Uganda and the surrounding areas, replacing the low micronutrient variety and preventing such mass suffering. It’s a similar effort to the development of GIF “Golden Rice” in Asia—using biotechnology to develop foods that supply important nutrients that are not sufficiently present in local diets.
Such is the excitement around the potential of genetically improved foods (GIFs). Experts believe that their potential in stemming malnourishment is extraordinary. We have widely reported this potential; unfortunately, we have also reported the ignorant anti-GIF activists like Food and Water Watch that deny the scientific consensus behind the safety of GIFs to further their Luddite ends.
Numerous GIF labeling bills are working their way through statehouses across the country. And while labeling in Vermont may seem far removed from blindness in Uganda, many experts say that’s not the case. For advancements in genetic improvement to be accepted by the developing world, they argue, Western countries need to accept consensus and treat GIFs as regular foods. As crop researcher Joseph Ndunguru told the Washington Post: “People [in developing countries] go to the Internet, and they read the information put there by European anti-GM groups, and they ask, ‘If this technology is safe, why don’t the Europeans use it?’” Laws and regulations that stigmatize GIFs threaten game changing developments like the super-banana.
Though activists may seem oblivious to this fact, that will not absolve them – in the words of (reformed) Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore – for being potentially responsible for the deaths of millions of kids.