Students and faculty discussed the ethics and effectiveness of genetically modified banana research being conducted at Iowa State University.
Clark Wolf, professor of philosophy, Christina Gish Hill, professor of anthropology. and Naboth Bwambale, graduate assistant of sociology and former Ugandan resident, formed a panel meant to critically analyze Wendy White’s, associate professor of food science and human nutrition, research on genetically modified bananas being developed for Ugandan farmers.
Originating at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia, the genetically modified banana is designed to hold higher levels of vitamin A, a lacking vitamin in Uganda that leads to malnutrition. At Iowa State, White has begun human testing on voluntary ISU students consuming the banana.
“My experience shows that our issue is not that we don’t produce enough food, but that we do not possess the infrastructure to distribute it,” Bwambale said.
“Just because the food itself is culturally appropriate, it doesn’t mean the GM [genetically modified] food itself is appropriate in that country,” Hill said, discussing the possibility of Ugandans refusing to grow the modified crop. “People simply might not eat it. They might not choose it.”
Other criticisms included the overall effectiveness of the research. Bwambale said 90 different varieties of banana exist in Uganda, and one new banana type to replacing them all is unlikely. Bwambale also said he felt that using ISU students as test subjects for the banana’s benefits and safety was unwise because of the naturally different environment and immune systems each group possesses.
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