Standing by nutrition research, Iowa State will test golden banana, defying Catch-22 protests

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Iowa State University (ISU) researchers are moving ahead with a controversial study on humans that will test the effectiveness of a genetically modified banana at delivering vitamin A to the consumer.

The research has garnered a significant amount of attention by activists on ISU’s campus and elsewhere as some fear the testing of GMOs on humans is unethical. The culmination of this concern occurred on February 15 when ISU students delivered a petition with over 57,000 online signatures that demanded that the study be ceased. The petition was also delivered to the Gates Foundation, which is funding the study, at it’s headquarters in Seattle, Washington. The event, widely anticipated by the media, which anticipated a large turnout of protestors, attracted almost no attention.

Petition delivery at ISU

Petition delivery at ISU

The reaction to the study, which has centered around protestors complaints that the genetically modified banana is not safe for humans, demonstrates the catch-22 biotechnology researchers are in when exploring the potential of GMOs, as advocates demand safety tests but also claim tests endanger test participants.

The ISU students opposed to GM research worked in the weeks leading up to the petition delivery in conjunction with AGRA Watch—a campaign of the Community Alliance for Global Justice, which is self-described as a grass roots campaign that challenges the activity of the Gates Foundation in Africa—and the telecommunications company CREDO Mobile (through its CREDO Action social network which hosts mostly left-leaning online petitions).

Anti-GMO protestor at Iowa organizing meeting as petition signatures were being gathered.

Anti-GMO protestor at Iowa organizing meeting as petition signatures were being gathered.

While the Gates Foundation has received much of the attention as the backers of the banana, Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), a governmental agency responsible for the guidance and coordination of all agricultural research activities in the country, and the U.S. Agency for International Development are also involved in the banana’s development.

Why ISU is testing this ‘golden banana?’

The study is set to investigate the efficacy of a GM banana that had been engineered to produce beta-carotene, a precursor to Vitamin A. The goal of this GM banana project is to develop seeds to be given to African nations where the fruit is eaten in large quantities and where vitamin A deficiency is a major health issue—like Uganda where an estimated 52 percent of children under 5 are vitamin A deficient. The crop has been in development since 2005 and produces six times the beta carotene as existing cultivars. It follows a growing trend of GM crops that are focused on consumer needs, particularly nutritional ones.

A meme passed around on social media by activists to raise awareness of the study

A meme passed around on social media by activists to raise awareness of the study

Golden Rice, a transgenic rice variety that includes genes that allow it to produce vitamin A, was the forerunner of the GM crops, which have been dubbed ‘biofortified.’ But others have propped up more recently, such as GM cassava that produces vitamin B6 and pearl millet bred to contain large amounts of zinc and iron in India. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that these innovations might pose a health or safety risk to test participants. Rather, these crops need to be tested on humans to see if the nutrient is actually bio-available in sufficient quantities to be effective and that’s what was happening at ISU.

The ISU study is being led by Wendy White PhD who is a world renowned expert on Vitamin A absorption and metabolism. For the past seven years White’s work has been sponsored by the HarvestPlus Biofortification Program an NGO that works to fight malnutrition around the world through breeding biofortified crops. In particular she is well known in the field for her work on biofortified cassava and maize.

White has recruited 12 paid human volunteers who would eat GM bananas and then have their blood drawn to test the bioavailability of vitamin A. Researchers at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane initially developed the ‘golden banana’. They created the new crop by inserting a gene from a wild banana into a banana variety that is a staple crop in East Africa.The two banana species are very close genetic relatives. But the beta-carotene analysis was to be done in Iowa because White’s expertise in measuring carotenoids (the class of molecules beta-carotene belongs to) in human blood and biofortification.

This isn’t the first time White has been called upon to analyze the bioavailability of vitamin A from a biofortified crop. In 2010, her lab published a paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in which they fed maize porridge that was derived from corn which had increased levels of beta-carotene to six women. In this case the corn was made through traditional breeding methods but interestingly, this previous study was not protested in the same manner as the current one despite their strong similarities.

Are safety concerns warranted?

Pro-GM advocates have hailed this crop as a potential life saver that could address nutrition deficiencies in millions of people. But the activists behind the petition have several complaints about the study. Chief among them is that GMOs should not be tested on humans. A February 11 press release by AGRA Watch announced the rationale for the petition drive:

This study is one of the first human feeding trials of a genetically modified product, and there has been no prior animal testing of this product. Thus, ISU students are being asked to be the first to consume a product of unknown safety…

The press release also includes comments from David Schubert, a molecular biologist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, a vocal anti-GMO opponent, enumerated on these safety concerns:

Beta carotine (sic) is chemically related to compounds that are known to cause birth defects and other problems in humans at extremely low levels, and these toxic chemicals are possible if not likely by-products of plants engineered to make large amounts of beta carotene.  Since there is no required safety testing of the banana or any other GMO, doing a feeding trial in people, especially women, should not be allowed.  It is both unethical and immoral, particularly because there are several naturally occurring varieties of banana that are safe and have higher levels of beta carotene than the GM varieties.

But the safety of biofortified beta-carotene crops aren’t in question as biologically there’s no scientific or biological rationale to support concerns that beta-carotene (the stuff that makes carrots orange) or the mechanism in which the crop was made puts humans at any risk. Further, there is sufficient data that back up the safety of vitamin A enhanced crops, chief among these is White’s previous work, as well as other similar studies on biofortified crops. But testing them on humans is necessary to ensure they effectively deliver enough nutrients to the consumer to be useful in combatting the particular vitamin deficiency.

The fact is that Schubert is not new to the GMO debate and has on many occasions criticized GMOs for lacking safety data and tests. Here is a video of him discussing these concerns at a discussion at the University of California San Diego in October 2012:

In this video, Schubert points out that the FDA (or any government agency) does not test GMO’s for safety on humans. After years of testing, federal regulators deemed GMOs substantially equivalent to crops made through other breeding methods like mutagenesis and artificial selection, but it’s clear this designation is not sufficient Dr. Schubert, and he’s not the only one who has made this argument.

AGRA Watch noted in a ‘World Food Day sermon‘ in November 2013, given by Phil Bereanoa member of Community Alliance for Global Justice’s advisory board and an active member of AGRA Watch,:

Are GE foods “safe’ to eat?  What is “safe”—acceptable risk.  But what are the risks? No US government agency assesses GE foods. The FDA abdicated this responsibility in 1992 when VP Quayle announced, on behalf of the President’s Commission on Corporate Competiveness, that GE foods would legally be considered a “substantially equivalent” to non-engineered foods…

Organic industry funded non-profit US Right to Know in its 2015 publication, Seedy Business, also made this clam that GMOs have not been properly vetted for their safety by the US government and should be tested further. As does Gary Hirshberg’s pro-organic lobbying group Just Label It! Former Washington State University economist Charles Benbrook, whose research has been 100% funded for years by the organic industry and is now a consultant for the Environmental Working Group and other anti-GMO activist organizations, noted, “the science just hasn’t been done.” Whenever this claim about a dearth of safety data is made it is generally followed up with the similar statement that no scientific consensus exists on the safety of GMOs.

Most GMO advocates challenge this by pointing to either last year’s poll of scientists with the American Association for the Advancement of Science that found 88 percent of its members believed GMOs are safe as proof for scientific consensus or the 2,000+ studies that have found no unusual health concerns posed by GM crops. A case could also be made that these anti-GMO activists are confusing ‘consensus’ with ‘unanimity.’ But if anti-GMO activists do truly believe the science just isn’t in yet on GMOs, than why are they trying to block the research that would help us understand whether new crops are safe and efficacious?

If no scientific consensus exists and if no data exist on safety and efficacy of these crops then isn’t the solution to do more basic research? And isn’t that exactly what White and her team are attempting to achieve? ISU is a public university funded by the government and tax payers; her work is not tied to industry and it would answer questions about the safety and efficacy of these crops. Both the American and Ugandan governments are involved in the study. This is exactly what anti-GMO groups have been calling for in regards to GMOs. Yet, instead of supporting Wendy White and her team, these organizations embolden and indeed help create the activist protests designed to block basic science research.

This is the catch-22 for GMO researchers. If they design tests to evaluate the safety and efficacy of innovative crops, activists claim the new foods aren’t safe enough to be tested on humans. But if they don’t run these trials, anti-biotechnology advocates claim GMOs haven’t been tested on humans to vet their safety. But as difficult a situation it is for scientists, its worse for the people (mostly children) who suffer daily from vitamin A deficiency.

Nicholas Staropoli is the associate director of GLP and director of the Epigenetics Literacy Project. He has an M.A. in biology from DePaul University and a B.S. in biomedical sciences from Marist College. Follow him on twitter @NickfrmBoston.

  • kfunk937

    Glad to see this going forward. This was my favourite part:

    A case could also be made that these anti-GMO activists are confusing ‘consensus’ with ‘unanimity.’ But if anti-GMO activists do truly believe the science just isn’t in yet on GMOs, than why are they trying to block the research that would help us understand whether new crops are safe and efficacious?

    I think that anti-GMO activists prefer things this way. Cognitive dissonance (and cults) depend on the Catch-22.Parenthetically, this research represents the first time I’ve regretted not being in Iowa, ’cause I’d volunteer in a heartbeat (even though I’m not a huge banana fan). Mebbe someone will do golden plátanos next?

    • agscienceliterate

      I love bananas, and would volunteer to participate if I lived in Iowa. I do hope this study can show some positive results with this biofortified banana. The Luddites would rather poke their eyes out with a fork than to support a new technology that actually might give health benefits to people, solely because the GE methodology does not pass their limited pseudo-science litmus test.

      • WeGotta

        I think I’d rather support AVAILABLE technology that actually DOES give health benefits rather than things that MIGHT.

        There are already things AVAILABLE that DO help.

        I think it’s rather religious of you to support non-existent things on faith while ignoring the solvable problems today.

        • Loren Eaton

          Every technology on the planet was, at one time, unproven. Things become ‘available’ when people take an idea and turn it into something useful. This rarely involves the use of pixie dust or religion.

          • agscienceliterate

            That argument that we should stop the clock would have ended with, uh, the clock. I mean, why should we invent microwaves when we already have a proven technology? (fire). Why should we invent airplanes when we have proven safe ways of transport? (walking, unless one encounters a roving gang of thugs, or a bear). Why should we invent computers – which this ignorant Luddite uses mindlessly. — when we had a perfectly safe and effective alternative? (cursive writing on scraps of paper, or charcoal marks on the inside of a cave wall). Why invent vaccines and medical interventions for deadly when we have a perfectly good alternative to intervention? (death)
            The Luddite arguments are perfect examples of ad hoc fallacy and rigid religious fervor to not move beyond the technology of a given era.

          • gmoeater

            One of the major problems with Luddite thinking is that the person has his own particular and irrational concept of when technology is acceptable or not, and when scientific discovery should continue or not. This is, of course, neither rational nor realistic in a time of tremendous scientific advances in physics, astronomy, microbiology, agriculture, health sciences, veterinary care, and hundreds of other areas of scientific endeavor. When one Luddite slams on the brakes, we can just choose to go around him and ignore him. And we will. One person’s limited capacity for creative and imaginative thinking does not in any way limit my own.

          • WeGotta

            Wrong again.
            Technology is just a tool. Humans wield such tools and history has shown that we would just as soon use them to harm one another as to help.

            I make a good living off modern technology.
            I think we are woefully behind the times technologically.
            We seem stuck in the mud. The US is literally falling apart yet we continue to spend our money killing one another with high tech tools like jet fighters and “smart” bombs.

          • WeGotta

            Okay.
            So what?

            I think cultural aspects like religion are more than rarely involved in those things.

            Our culture is one of ego and perceived separateness.
            So we create things that divide us and isolate ourselves.

        • Warren Lauzon

          On the other hand, I can find quotes from not all that long ago asking what good laser research was.

          • WeGotta

            So what?
            People still get sick, die, kill each other and destroy the planet. With or without lasers.

            How about we spend some time and energy curing human insanity before we upgrade our tools?

          • Warren Lauzon

            And how exactly do we go about “curing” people like Kim Jong Un, ISIS, and Assad?

          • agscienceliterate

            Any excuse (“save the world first!!”) before addressing real and current food and hunger issue. Not only shortsighted, but highly selfish. Very “let them eat cake” with irrational, pandering, irrelevant comments about politics.

          • WeGotta

            You have got to be kidding me!!!!
            Addressing the real and current food and hunger issue right NOW is what I would support.
            It’s possible right NOW. So why aren’t we?????

            In fact, the very best real world definition of shortsighted, selfish and “let them eat cake” is irrational GE scientists pandering for their pet lab projects which have not helped in any real way after decades and billions of dollars except for enriching those same scientists.

            You are insane.
            You are also a coward.

          • Stuart M.

            GMO biotechnology is addressing the real and current food and hunger issue. It is anti-GMO fanatics like you who are blocking it from being used in Africa and elsewhere. Your words:

            “It would also be completely free of gmo controversy which, like it or not, is very real and will continue to hamper progress along that line. That’s just a fact as sure as some other factor that would hamper the absorption of vitamin A produced by a GE banana.”

            It is total retards like you who are hampering progress along that line!!!

            You hypocrite!
            Why don’t you crawl back under the rock you came from?

          • WeGotta

            “Retarded” or not. There is opposition and there will continue to be opposition.

            It’s you who try and make it emotional and insist things shouldn’t be the way they obviously are.

            Is that how you do science? Do you get emotional and throw out personal insults to your lab rats when you get certain unexpected but real results?

            “You retarded tumor cell! Your’e not supposed to be there! Go crawl under a rock!”

          • WeGotta

            We created those people. They are symptoms of our collective disease like how a clotting disorder is a symptom of cancer.
            Other symptoms of our collective disease are people dying from too much food in one part of the globe and people dying of not enough food in others, plastic filling our oceans, mass extinction of species, male-dominated cultures and global financial systems which guarantee future strife and inequality.

          • JP

            No advancement in anything allowed until we force everybody to be nice to each other or WeGotta permits it!

          • WeGotta

            I don’t want to force anything. Everything can be just like it is. I don’t need external conditions to be a certain way in order for me to be complete or to feel peace and joy.
            I don’t need anyone to agree with me.

            So do what you want to bananas. But if you try and tell me you are doing it to help poor people or that those bananas are the “smartest” solution then I’d disagree.

          • JP

            Fine. Disagree. Yet again, it’s a very good thing you aren’t making the decisions about them.

          • WeGotta

            Okay.

          • gmoeater

            JP, you ever notice how these guys not only want to avoid technology for themselves, like vaccines and GE food. but feel compelled to make some kind of ridiculous argument that we also shouldn’t have access to these technologies? It’s not good enough for them to avoid these technologies themselves. They feel compelled to make sure that we can’t have access to these technologies either. Pseudoscientific evangelism at its worst. Pedantic, bullying busybodies.

          • WeGotta

            Wrong again.
            I love technology.

            Access it all you want. Hope and pray it will solve all your problems. Have faith if in it if you want.

          • Boops

            Our external conditions drive our entire lives. You live in a stable country with plentiful food, water, shelter, education and medical assistance. Even people living in drought affected or desert areas can have bottled water, paid for by your government, and shipped in by the well equipped army/national guard etc. Food is able to be cleaned well, preserved at appropriate temperatures, and easily distributed, nationally. Even the very poor can access a soup-kitchen for a free wholesome meal. Of course “everything can stay just as it is”; changing that status-quo can really only be negative.

            The external conditions of people in many central African nations include: long-term civil war, repeated cycles of oppression within government and corruption (the US is a utopia in comparison), poor water supply and sanitation, or often just access to a manual-pump water well for 30%+ of rural populations (tens of millions of people), poor education, widespread disease, difficult crop growth (too tropical and wet or too arid), low product export ability of the country, shortages of medical professionals, HIV, endemic nutrient deficiencies and their longer term health problems. These people are silently screaming for things to change; changing this status-quo by helping to reduce a chronic health problem can be incredibly positive for a population.

          • WeGotta

            Our entire life is just a temporary condition.

            I know there is suffering in the world.
            Even in our “utopia” people suffer. Billionaires trying to accumulate more wealth are suffering. Plant biologists who believe getting published will add value to their lives are suffering.

            So what’s the real root of suffering?

          • Boops

            Human frailty. We all die.

            Do you really believe that “Plant biologists who believe getting published will add value to their lives” is what is really going on and that they’re driven by academic acclaim and/or wealth?

          • WeGotta

            The form we call our body ceases to exist in that form, like all things.

            You’re asking if I believe in that specific absolute. My answer would be the same for nearly all such questions. Of course not.

            Do you really believe that there are no plant biologists motivated purely by acclaim or wealth?

            Do you really believe that plant biologists are independent of the other forces involved in genetic research?

          • Boops

            Our bodies die and cease to exist, yes.

            Whether or not you can or could believe in an absolute is irrelevant to the discussion and diverts from the topic. My question did not reference an “absolute”. To paraphrase, do you feel that the researchers ‘generally’ care more about getting published than trying to improve the lives of millions by working with a nation’s government and authorities, and organisations such as WHO, to identify problems and potential solutions to benefit all?

            Of course all plant geneticists don’t think or operate as a uniform group, with good or bad motivations. Nor do they all work in the same fields.

            I don’t understand how an anti-GMO person can hold onto that stance while also advocating for at least some improvements to the conditions and food stability for people in impoverished countries. It takes decades for changes to take hold and build in the long-term. If a simple vitamin deficiency can be tackled, at least in part, with a gene from a wild banana being added to an established one growing in a certain country then that can be one of many small improvements that accumulate over time.

            The likelihood for any adverse reactions, injury, or decreased health are so incredibly close to zero (yes. How can they know? Because they understand genetic biology and what molecules do what in our bodies) that “human trials” are considered safe enough to commence and monitor, so that some analysis about absorbtion can be done.

            The concept of scientific uncertainty and what it means needs to be understood in this situation.

          • WeGotta

            I believe researchers are human and are thus subject to the whole spectrum of human beliefs and motivations.

            I am not anti any technology. Technology is only a tool and not innately bad or good. It’s humans that I don’t trust.

            Humans are delusional and collectively we show no wisdom or compassion. That some people starve in parts of the world and others die of overeating in others is just one of the manifestations of our insanity.

            You have faith that we can create a technology that will overcome this insanity from within the very same system that sustains it. I disagree.

            I’d rather we tackle the root of it which is fear manifesting as greed, pride, sloth, wrath, envy, lust and gluttony. This would require fundamental systemic change.

            Imagine if a million Americans traveled to Africa and helped those nations who ask build up the infrastructure required so that people no longer died of malnutrition in those locations using the available tools we have right now.
            I don’t see how that scenario is any more unrealistic than what you propose and I would bet it would produce way more deep and lasting benefits for both of our peoples.

            It would also be completely free of gmo controversy which, like it or not, is very real and will continue to hamper progress along that line. That’s just a fact as sure as some other factor that would hamper the absorption of vitamin A produced by a GE banana.

          • Boops

            Interesting.

            I think fear is a primal human emotion required for our survival. It won’t disappear. It would be nice to tackle and truely end wars driven by whatever but our entire recorded history proves that wars and everything that comes with conflict is part of human existence. Like it or not, it’s reality. Striving for world peace and talking it when it happens is obviously better than fighting, and the human race does work at peace.

            Uganda has made great progress in the last decade or so since achieving peace . Worth looking into. Systemic change right there.

            A particular crop for a particular need could be highly beneficial and worth trying. However, no gm-crop will prevent the poorer people dying of a water-borne disease, or being shot, or in childbirth, or drowning in the lake… but if a small rural community can feel better and be more productive in their daily farming/household duties, then they have a better chance of feeling better and happier in what life they do live.

            In the meantime, the global population keeps growing, life expectancy is increasing, and people need to eat. Is rather run culling programs than deny people access to a very basic food.

            I’m actually not one who wants to see an end to world poverty and suffering by feeding everyone equally and curing all disease. Too many people. That’s another story though.

          • WeGotta

            I just finished reading the story of Leymah Gbowee, the Nobel Laureate who is credited with halting the violent war in Liberia. I don’t believe I’ve read anything more moving than the story of how the women of that country disarmed the soldiers 8 at a time.

            I’m very happy to hear about the positive progress in Uganda and I wish nothing but peace and prosperity for Ugandans.

            Yes. Peace is the foundation of all great things. We should all strive to find it within ourselves so that it will manifest into our world.

            I personally believe that peace is synonymous with balance. Once we find peace we will find a balance with our planet and it’s ability to sustain us.
            Once we find peace we will use our technology wisely.

            I don’t believe that fear is required. But that’s only my opinion based upon my practice. Our species is so lost in fear it’s difficult to imagine life without it.

          • Boops

            Cool :) respect. Let’s leave it there. Thanks for the discussion!

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            People who oppose progress., as you do.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            No, I checked with several of my neighbors, some relatives, and the guy working on my greenhouses. They all denied creating any dictators. “Collective disease”=psycho-babble.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            Or the guy you just responded to?

    • Realist

      You are absolutely right. It is good to see my alma mater stand it’s ground against a few ignorant students.

    • Mark Pawelek

      Because their real, strategic, motive is to throw a spanner in the works of technological progress, industrial and human development. They view GMOs as a game-changing technology, as special. You need to see through their flim-flam arguments to look at the history of the green movement and its lies. That way you can tease this strategic pattern out of their history for yourself.

  • Warren Lauzon

    Not much of a massive turnout – 8 (9 if you count who took the picture) for something that got 57,000 signatures (their goal was 75,000). I think this shows that anyone will sign a petition online that involves no effort, but very few think it is important enough to actually go out into the cold.

    • mem_somerville

      Yes, clicktivism #fail. I’m shocked, of course.

      It was great to read in the Register story that over 500 people volunteered. I would have flown there myself if they’d asked.

  • Jackson

    Is that an air pump sticking into that banana?

    • Dominick Dickerson

      Lol, and these are allegedly graduate students who are behind this.

      The student organizer behind the protest is a girl who is purportedly studying “sustainable agriculture” too. Yould think they’ll have some biology as part of that curriculum.

  • WeGotta

    I saw that my neighbor needs his lawn cut but he is physically unable to do it himself.

    Naturally, I conducted a multi-decade research project costing millions of dollars looking into how to build a sophisticated robot that will cut his grass.

    I’ll rent it to him real cheap if he also agrees to buy my other robots.

    • Dominick Dickerson

      The proposed biofortified staples in development come with stipulations that they’ll be dispersed at low or no cost and none of them come with requirements of purchasing other genetically modified crops.

      But once farmers see the benefits of biotechnology they likely will adopt them. We’ve seen it with many of the crops already in the portfolio, e.g adoption of GE sugar beet was amongst the most rapid in known history.

      And if those farmers choose that it’s the prerogative. I believe the developing world has enough agency to choose whether or not they would like to use biotechnology. They’re not something that needs the paternalism of western activists to protect them from a suite of breeding methods.

      • WeGotta

        Farmers can adopt what they wish. If they value money, they will choose stuff that makes them more of that. That doesn’t make the technology anything other than “profitable”.
        Consumers can buy what they wish and they can avoid what they wish also.

        I can’t think of a more paternalistic relationship than high tech western scientists and billionaires spending billions of $ (going to western scientists , universities, companies) and decades developing a still as yet materialized solution for a problem that could have been solved long ago for less.

        Worse, most of the problems of the “third world” can be traced back to our privileged lifestyles in the “first world”.

        So nice of us to throw them some scraps at “low” cost. Well, it will be if and when it ever happens I guess.
        Don’t forget to read the fine print though Africa. You may just find you are signing away some important rights for those bananas. But it’s best to negotiate from a position of power, so kudos to biotech.

        • JP

          With that kind of reasoning, I guess we should go back to a hunting and gathering with our bare hands lifestyle. Every technological advance has been made by those with the capacity to make it and has filtered down to those that do not.

          • WeGotta

            Why on earth would you think that? That shows a lack of reasoning.
            “Filtered down” he says………

            How long until vitamin A supplements (which have been available for almost a century) filter down to Africa?

            Or is it only the really really expensive things that filter?

          • Warren Lauzon

            And for how many decades do we keep shipping those supplements rather than make the nutrients they need in local food? You complain about the filter down – yet it seems that you are willing to let them be dependent on the 1st world forever.

          • agscienceliterate

            For the same length of time that we send people out into the fields at $7 an hour to bend over and pick weevils off cotton.

          • WeGotta

            Right. Cause that’s the only other option in the universe.

          • WeGotta

            I’m pretty sure there’s an easier way than to:
            -Find enough rich philanthropists, venture capitalists, and governments (tax payers) to
            -fund enough universities, scientists and farmers in order to
            -understand, manipulate, test and market changes in plant DNA while at the same time having to
            -bribe government and journalists and
            -pay an army of lawyers, strong-arm those who see things differently,
            -fight various local initiatives, fight against labeling,
            -convince people its safe, pay people to comment on websites, and negotiate favorable trade agreements and contracts.

            All in the hope that it will work.

            Why can’t the vitamin A factories move their plants to Africa? They gotta be somewhere right? Why are the factories so far from those who need what’s being made?
            Why not gift them the whole vitamin A industry? I’m sure the people that own it now can be bought.

            Why can’t we find EXISTING plants that would grow in those locations? There’s dozens.

            And so what if they “depended” on the 1st world for lifesaving vitamins “forever”?
            I think they’d be pretty pleased with us. Might put some shine back on the ole stars and stripes.

            “Here, have some life saving stuff on us for as long as you need.” I’m definitely willing to be part of a country that says that. I think they’d be a strong ally and have our backs.

          • JP

            And how do you think Vitamin A supplements were created? Or Vitamin A even discovered as a needed nutrient? With your line of reasoning, the research into micronutrient needs wouldn’t have even been done in the first place. But I’m sure you have an arbitrary, subjective line that you’ve drawn as to which research should be undertaken or not.

          • agscienceliterate

            That, JP, is the very essence of a Luddite.

          • WeGotta

            Wrong again.

          • WeGotta

            Nope.
            You are still making the rediculous “all or nothing” argument.

            There exists right now the technology to solve this specific problem.

            Yet you think it’s smarter to have faith in controversial, expensive, unproven, and potentially dangerous nonexistent solutions.

            So my objective and specific line on this issue would be to use what exists.

          • JP

            Ah, so you’re against progress of any kind from your arbitrarily selected point of right now?

            That, bud, is the definition of a Luddite.

            And it is not objective because there is no objective reasoning for choosing what currently exists as the point from which no more progress is necessary.

          • WeGotta

            And again, you’re stuck in all or nothing.

            For the problem of vitamin a deficiency I would choose the available technology rather than to spend money on controversial and potentially dangerous nonexistent technology.

            I’m all for progress. I just disagree with you about where progress should be made.
            I disagree that we need more progress on things that already have solutions.

          • Guest

            WG, my apologies if you’ve addressed this already, but which available technologies do you propose to alleviate vitamin A deficiency?

          • WeGotta

            With all the money that has been spent on golden rice and these bananas why couldn’t someone build a vitamin A manufacturing center or distribution center near where is the most need?
            Or, why can’t we pay unemployed Americans to bring them there?
            Or, why can’t we help them grow one of the dozens of available plants to provide them with vitamins?

            Why is it that the “smart” thing to do is to waste millions of dollars and decades on controversial technology that has yet to materialize?

            Of course, these are all superficial solutions for the main problem of humanity. That is our collective insanity which allows such things to exist in the first place.

          • JP

            “Building a vitamin A plant” is far more a superficial solution that designing plants that can be grown fortified with the stuff.

          • jean-philippe cloutier

            I’ve been reading those blogs for almost 2 years now and his/her suggestion is one of the dumbest thing i’ve read so far

          • WeGotta

            Giving existing vitamins to people who need them is “the dumbest thing” you’ve read in 2 years?

            Smarter to spend decades and billions developing controversial, unproven, expensive, and strings-attached as yet materialized solutions?

          • jean-philippe cloutier

            i meant build a vitamin A manufacturing plant… you think would’nt come with come with strings attached?! Do you know the cost of chemical synthesis? solvants? reactors?

            They have the infrastructure to cultivate bananas and the knowledge…. so if those tests proves that enriched bananas are a good way to give vitamine A, i think we’re looking at a pretty simple solution.

          • WeGotta

            So there’s no need for chemical synthesis, solvents and reactors in the science of genetic engineering?

            Give me the price tag of such a plant. I’ll bet more has been spent on all things related to golden rice.

            Why can’t we build the infrastructure and knowledge base required to grow any one of the dozens of vitamin A rich plants that already exist?

          • jean-philippe cloutier

            This would require some more land to be used for agriculture…i thought not destroying ecosystems for agriculture was a good thing.

            Plus the CO2 emssions caused by the building of the manufacturing plant, and the transportation…

            i don’t think genetic engineering needs as much chemicals as organic synthesis or huge reactors or huge amount of organic solvents which usually come from oil industry by the way.

          • WeGotta

            So there’s no need for buildings, transportation and manufacturing in the science of genetic engineering?

            Agricultural land can be “destructive” or “beneficial” depending on how you do it. It can even sequester CO2, clean water and provide habitat for a multitude of life.

            Genetic engineering requires a lot of infrastructure which requires a lot of oil.
            It also seems to require a lot of other things like lobbying, advertising, public educational outreach, fighting of local ballot initiatives, PR firms, pesticides, herbicides, patents, risk and distortion of science.

          • jean-philippe cloutier

            Yeah all the things you mention in your last paragraph are needed cause of people like you spreading bad rethoric around…

            You dont seem to understand that the tests for those bananas are made in the USA, they would not need new infrastructure in africa….

            anyways people debating you are alot more patient than me, for that i thank them and be on my way.

          • WeGotta

            “People like me” have every right to our opinions about such things as “people like you”.

            Maybe you think you are God because you can manipulate DNA and thus are entitled to special consideration?

            What’s wrong with building up the infrastructure in Africa?

          • jean-philippe cloutier

            WOW….i never said you had no right to your opinion, but having opinions comes with a price, being wrong sometimes…

            Plus we’re not talking about the last star wars, we are speaking about genetic engineering so i would think that statements emitted by people in this field have more weight than yours. When we’ll talk about chakras and mandalas maybe your opinion will have some weight.

            i never said i was god… and i cant manipulate DNA, my field is organometallic chemistry…

            This is my last comment, sorry to back out of it so quickly but other people here are far more skilled than me on commenting and refuting your BS as i’ve seen so far.

          • WeGotta

            Okay.

          • Again the problem with vitamin defficiencies lies in the distribution of vitamin supplements. Building a new plant is much easier the nearer you are to civilisation – educated workforce, electricity, roads, etc. however the needs are in rural areas. crop biofortification solves both the vitamin synthesis problem (without organic solvents and other synthetic chemicals) and the distribution problems at once. Costs of the programs while highly inflated due to restrictive gmo regulations are still just fraction of the costs of building a new factory or the annual costs of supplement distribution programs.

          • WeGotta

            Seems like they might benefit from education, electricity and roads. Let’s give them those things too.

            Why not? It would multiply the benefits to both our countries by orders of magnitude.
            Win their hearts and minds. Help fellow humans. Save more babies than any law trying to stop abortion. Be more a “Christian” thing to do than going to church. Give us a stronger ally than any propped up dictator. Something to be proud of instead of fighting over.

            Costs are inflated by opposition to GMO. That’s true. So let’s drop that proposed solution and use those not hampered by such things.

          • it seems that cakes will solve all problems . let them eat cakes.

          • hyperzombie

            Well why are you yacking about it on the internet, jump on a plane and build those roads, powerlines and teach them how to farm.

          • WeGotta

            While that could help a few people, the problem would persist. That course of action would also create other problems for other people such as my family.

            Jesus said “The poor you will always have with you; but you will not always have me”.
            I take that to mean that there will always be poor among us as long as there is always an absence of love/peace among us.

            I try to cultivate that within myself. What we cultivate within ourselves manifests into our external world sure as specific plants are more likely to grow under certain conditions.

            Being compassionate and peaceful where I am helps those people around me right now as sure as I could help those in Africa. No need travel thousands of miles to help people. If we all help each other, everyone is helped.

            As people feel more peaceful and more love in their lives, they will naturally stop seeking it in external things and conditions. This helps stop the insane cycle of greed and fear that directly causes suffering for people not lucky enough to have all the weapons and resources at this time.

          • jean-philippe cloutier

            You say “unproven”…isnt it the point of those tests to prove or disprove it’s efficiency?

          • WeGotta

            Yes.
            When it’s ready it will be tested and either proved or disproved.

            Meanwhile, a proven solution exists.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            Strings attached. A lie as that has already been shown in this argument. Again, not your money. Not your decision.

          • WeGotta

            Feel better?

          • WeGotta

            “Superficial” is not good or bad. It’s just a descriptor.
            Again you miss the whole point trying to play some sort of gotcha game to appease your ego.

            Try some science.

          • JP

            You’re really extremely good at backing out of statements you’ve made. Saying that you didn’t mean what you wrote doesn’t change that you wrote it, and does nothing to strengthen your stance.

          • WeGotta

            I have no idea what you’re talking about most of the time.
            What statement did I “back out of”?

            I used a descriptive word in a certain context (superficial). Then you tried to turn it around in some nonsensical way to mean something completely different. Then I clarified.

            I stand by my statement. Providing supplements to poor people is a superficial fix for a deep psychological human condition which has created the situation where a relative few have so much while others have so little.

          • JP

            You used a descriptive term in the context of “our collective insanity.” But I’m sure you think that is a neutral descriptor as well.

            As for your “deep psychological human condition” mumbo jumbo: BS. That’s really all that deserves. Your ideas are all well and good in concept, but you really need to learn to add a dash of pragmatism.

          • WeGotta

            Why is it that we need pragmatism in the face of the human insanity behind most of the world’s suffering but somehow we can figure out how to manipulate the genome of a banana to provide vitamin A?

          • JP

            Manipulating the genome of a banana to produce a nutrient fortified version of a crop that is already a staple in the areas it is intended for is pragmatic.

          • WeGotta

            Haha…..hardly.

            Pragmatic: dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations.

            Quite the opposite of pragmatic. More like impractical, idealistic, inefficient and unreasonable.

            It’s still theoretical right?

          • JP

            Not really, no.

          • WeGotta

            So why are they testing?

          • JP

            Making sure something works as intended isn’t pragmatic…?

          • WeGotta

            Testing things is very pragmatic.
            But that doesn’t make the thing getting tested pragmatic.

          • JP

            That also doesn’t make it not pragmatic.

          • WeGotta

            Now you’re learning! Rarely are things all or nothing.

            Has it been proven that these bananas will work? Or is it theoretical right now?

          • JP

            The bananas produce vitamin A. That is certainly not theoretical. The testing is for confirmation that the final product does what it was designed to do. Quality control, if you will. Very pragmatic.

            Kind of a Schoedinger’s Cat situation at this point, I suppose. The banana exists in reality, it either works or it doesn’t. Won’t know until the testing is done.

          • WeGotta

            “Won’t know until the testing is done.” AKA theoretical.

          • JP

            Nice catch-22 there.

          • agscienceliterate

            In other words, “Not tested enough. Aaaaand, don’t test.”

          • there is very simple solution to that. you can follow Gates example and give more than a half of your riches to charity. And you can try to convine others to follow your example.

          • WeGotta

            Or I can just fix myself. That’s all one person can do.

            Any action a person takes will reflect their personal state of mind. That despite intentions.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            It is the prerogative of those who own the money to do as they see fit with it. You have no say in the decision. Instead of questioning Gates or whomever. Try thanking them. BTW I have never heard about what the “”wegotta”” foundation is doing to combat malnutrition in Uganda. Why is that?

          • agscienceliterate

            Maybe he will put his money into the alternatives he supports instead? Naaaah, didn’t think so. All talk.

          • JP

            Well, as I’ve said before, it’s a good thing you have no say as to the policy on these things then.

          • WeGotta

            Ya, those clowns running for president are much wiser and have yours and my interests at heart.

          • well the programs of distribution of vitamin A supplements are no news. these programs are running for decades, but face problems related to distribution, coverage, sustainability. http://www.unicef.org/publications/files/Vitamin_A_Supplementation.pdfWhile the pill itself might be cheap, its distribution is expensive. the biofortification of stapple foods could provide the necessary nutrients for free.

          • WeGotta

            BS for free. “Could provide” but doesn’t provide.

            Problems like distribution, coverage and sustainability of the distribution of Vitamin A sound completely solvable.

            Way way way more easy, noncontroversial and available than is trying to get physiologically effective types of micronutrients to grow in plants against their will in a safe, reproducible and profitable way, then distribute them, monitor them, regulate them, and change with them as the inevitable changes start to occur which, quite conveniently, will mostly require more of the same types of technology from the same people.

            In some real way it’s just a subscription.

          • more precise wording would be to return physiologically effective types of micronutrients to plants from which they were removed by millenia of selective breeding. I am lost in what you mean by monitoring and regulating these crops. If each farmer has to get a permit prior to planting these biofortified crops , then yes. such solution is not sustainable.

          • gmoeater

            Including technological benefits to the idiots who opposed it in the first place.

          • WeGotta

            Who’s opposed to a benefit?

            I think you are confused.

  • Boops

    Several fallacies spew forth here, muddled in with slack-jawed bleh to describe the ignorance of these protestors. Clearly, these protestors are really part of a larger, secret, global movement to enforce population-control policy, or maybe they just want death and suffering, OR maybe they’re really a front for the carrot industry who are trying to increase their supply in Uganda/Africa *sarcasm emphasised*…

    These hard-line environmentalists and most of their causes achieve very little in relation to their “ideals”, ever, and these anti-bioenrichment-GMO activists actually succeed in achieving their “anti-ideals”. Are people that blind?

    They need lessons in foods, nutrients and widespread deficiencies, the human body, and the concepts of bioavailability variability, ethnic genetic variability, geography, plant growth, African civil war histories, and economics…. then maybe they’ll get it. Seriously, my science degree was in geology and chemistry and even I fully understand the basics of how the body works to see the benefits of a “Golden banana”. It’s a beta-carotene gene! If it can be absorbed properly from a banana then why not enrich it and see if it improves overall population health?

    I don’t know anything about genetic engineering or gene science but, having a solid understanding of chemistry and atomic/molecular level processes, my understanding of a Golden banana is that if the body can absorb and use beta-carotene from the banana “molecule”, then it will assist Vitamin A production. If not, there will be no absorbtion and the beta-carotene will remain bonded to the banana “molecule” and excreted as waste. How can it possibly cause any damage? How can an essential nutrient, available in many foods, be unsafe when enriched in another similar food?

    *stands in line as a human tester*

    • Rickinreallife

      Thank you for that. It is the most sensible post yet. Why is it even relevant for us in the U. S. to think it is our job to tell the Ugandan government, it’s scientists and people that we think it should or shouldn’t utilize genetic engineering to biofortified a food staple. I believe this author has more credibility and responsibility for the people of Uganda and their actual well being than other posters on this site, you and I included. Let those of us in this country who witness 20% of our friends and relatives suffer the consequences of Vitamin A deficiency tell Ugandans what is best for them.

      • Boops

        Hear hear. Thanks

  • Kevin Folta

    Schubert. I was at an event where he was speaking and he went on to criticize golden rice and provitamin-A enriched plants, claiming that they make retinoids. Retinoids are natural compounds (you can’t see without them) and they do have cellular signalling roles in the body. In excess, or in the wrong place, they can be problematic.

    What Schubert does not know is that plants do not produce retinoids. I know, because I looked hard for a long time. Others too. Some of the most sensitive means available were used and we came up with nothing.

    But he’ll keep fear mongering, not sure what his angle is, but he was not pleasant in person.

  • Stuart M.

    As much as I like the Richard Dawkins Foundation, which is a beacon of scientific light in the pseudo-scientific wasteland that is America, even there one can find people who can understand what a scientific consensus is and what that consensus is on things like global warming, but when it comes to GMOs their faces immediately start twitching uncontrollably, their knees start jerking as they demand a “cautionary approach” to GMO safety. When I tell them 88% of scientists say GMOs are as safe for humans as conventional foods they immediately point to the 12% as if that somehow negates the 88%. The fact is that most of those 12% probably fall into the undecided category, rather anti-GMO. Being anti-GMO has all the characteristics of a religious cult or a fascist ideology. No amount of research, no appeal to reason will ever convince them.

    • WeGotta

      Placing a heterogeneous group of people into a single category in order to insult them as one group is much more aligned with those who have religious or fascist tendencies.

      As soon as “scientists” start addressing the real underlying problems that are the root cause of global destruction, sickness, poverty, ignorance, greed, mass extinction, lead-contaminated public water, and war I will consider supporting your religion (that you falsely call science), same as I would for any other religion.

      • Stuart M.

        Scientists have addressed all of these issues. They have offered solutions too. It is the politicians, the religious and the fascist fanatics on the Left and Right that block all efforts to feed the poor, stop global warming, stop religious wars, etc. If you think science is a religion, you are dumber than I thought.

        • WeGotta

          If science has addressed these issues and offered solutions then science is a useless.
          Just as useless as a car that is never driven or a good idea that was never put into practice.

          You see, I’m a believer in objective data rather than faith.
          So when I see all scientists come together demanding sane, scientifically sound policies and actions (rather than fighting over data while the world burns) I will be convinced.

          Imagine the headlines!
          “All world’s scientists agree that war and violence does not work and that what we do to some people of the world we do to all people of the world.”
          “All scientists agree. There’s too much plastic in the ocean and we must act now”.
          “Scientists in complete agreement, money is corrupting politics.”

          I don’t think science is religion. I think some scientists mistake religion for science.

          • Stuart M.

            If banana wilt is wiping out the Ugandan banana crop, why won’t you let the scientists give Ugandans a GMO variety which is immune to banana wilt? That addresses a real need right NOW.

            No, you are an anti-GMO fanatic who would rather they starve while you advocate changing “human nature” first. You are a murdering son-of-a-bitch, that’s what you are.

          • WeGotta

            I’m not stopping anybody from doing anything.

            I wouldn’t stop a million scientists from traveling to Uganda and transforming their country into a wonderland. They could all do that today with the amount of time and money they’ve spent on research; research that has not provided anything for Ugandans as of yet.

            I wouldn’t stop them from traveling to the US capital and demanding our leaders stop spending so much on war when our people are in need of clean water and healthy food.

            I wouldn’t stop them from demanding we stop destroying the planet and all life on it.

            I wouldn’t stop them from chastising all of us for wasting so much when so many have so little either.

            So save your emotional insults and attacks for those who actually murder people. Start with our politicians. But don’t be surprised when emotional insults and attacks don’t work.

  • agscienceliterate

    ‘They’ve not been tested. So, therefore, let’s not test them.” Huh??

  • David Frohman

    I live in Ames. I am scared of “roundup ready” GMOs but they’re unfortunately already dominating the market. The problem with roundup ready GMOs is that roundup is some pretty nasty stuff, and I don’t like the idea of it gettign mixed into my food. I am not scared of Beta-Carotene enhancers.

    I am scared by our shocking loss of biodiversity in farming, but that’s Mr. Hoover’s Fault. Mr “All agricultural products across the united states need to be interchangable parts” Hoover of the great depression.

    I’m glad that Iowa is also slowly overturning his “reforms” and real diversity, expensive as it is, has been returning to the grocery stores. I love purple carrots! Red “Delicious” Apples are disgusting! Heirloom Tomatoes are wonderful!

    I look forward to adding Golden Bananas to my list of amazing foods. Anything would be an improvement over Cavendish. Though, honestly, they probably just genetically modified the Cavendish.

    Buuut, if they did just genetically modify the Cavendish, don’t worry about this GMO making it far out of the testing stages! A resurgence of the fungus that killed off the Gros Michel is threatening to do the same to the Cavendish. This might just be a short lived product.

  • healthcpn

    And how exactly do we go about “curing” people like Kim Jong Un, ISIS, and Assad????
    banana nutrition