Why Iowa State ‘fortified’ GM banana trials are vital to Uganda

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Uganda was in the spotlight in the United States this past week because of research being done at Iowa State University, which involved a genetically modified banana that produces higher levels of Pro-vitamin A.

The most noticeable part of this story was the mobilization of innocent well-fed American students protesting the fruit which could help the innocent ill-fed Ugandan children and pregnant mothers evade the deficiency of vitamin A syndromes.

Students and activists in particular were gathering signatures and protesting a planned study that involved feeding student volunteers the GM banana to test whether the banana produced enough vitamin A in the consumer to be effective at treating nutrient deficiency. But what is missing from their petition is that this research is vital to Uganda’s future, but cannot be done in the country.

Vitamin A deficiency is responsible for retarded growth and development, and impaired vision. In Uganda’s recent elementary level exams, students in rural schools performed worst, with some districts recording only one first grade (a passing grade on the primary leaving examination in Uganda) compared to urban districts where most registered schools had all pupils in first grade. A large percentage of Ugandans in rural areas are at risk of malnutrition. There has been a constant push for school feeding programs, but they have not taken root. Imagine a 7 year-old who leaves home in the morning, walks 3 kilometers to school, studies with an empty stomach for 8 hours only to return home and find only a banana which is devoid of the nutrients that the child needs to develop properly. How is that child expected to succeed?

As a way to help nutrition in the country, particularly the youth, Uganda came up with the Nutrition Action Plan (2011-2016) with a main purpose of scaling up multisectoral efforts to establish a strong nutrition foundation for Uganda’s development. The main sectoral players being the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industries and Fisheries; Ministry of Health; Ministry of Trade; and the Private Sector. The Ministry of Health was to handle the issues of food supplements, while Trade was to ensure foods were fortified with necessary micronutrients, in particular to enforce a requirement for every salt imported in Uganda be iodized. The role of the Ministry of Agriculture through its research arm, the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), was to enhance the quality of crops through biofortification. These are crops which have been improved to produce a nutrient that is normally not in the crop, or is there but not in high enough levels to be a significant source of the nutrient.

Uganda’s Nutrition Action Plan emphasizes promotion of bio-fortified varieties through: establishing policy to promote bio-fortification, increasing varieties of bio-fortified foods, scaling up bio-fortification of foods nationwide, increasing and strengthening public-private food bio-fortification partnerships. This would contribute to ensuring availability, accessibility, and affordability of food in the quantities and qualities sufficient to satisfy the dietary needs of individuals sustainably.

According to Uganda Demographic and Health Survey in 2011 there were high levels of childhood under-nutrition. Over 33 percent of the children under 5 years exhibited stunted growth, 5 percent showed signs of wasting syndrome and 14 percent were underweight. Vitamin A deficiency affects one out of five young children and women of reproductive age, resulting in impaired resistance to infection and consequently higher levels of illness and mortality, as well as potentially severe eye problems. It is therefore out of need that all Uganda’s crop breeding programs are prioritizing enhancing crops with beta-carotene (a biological precursor to vitamin A) and iron.

Ongoing biofortification efforts 

All crop varieties developed by NARO and released by the National Variety Release committee are high yielding. NARO has embarked now on improving the quality of those crops enriching them with micronutrients and minerals which are essential for human development especially for pregnant mothers and infants. There are beans rich in iron, and sweet potato rich in beta-carotene commonly referred to as orange fleshed sweet potato (bet-carotene is what makes carrots orange hence the orange flesh).

Orange fleshed sweet potato, which contains more beta-carotene than other sweet potatoes, is being rolled out to potato growing areas of Uganda. This effort, though good, may not meet all the vitamin A requirements needed in Uganda as sweet potato is not as widely eaten in Uganda as bananas and it is seasonal in rural areas. Farmers boil sweet potato and they do not like it when the crop is soft and mushy. Sweet potato breeders say the higher the level of beta-carotene the lower the dry matter content which leads to softness of orange fleshed sweet potato when boiled. This makes a biofortified sweet potato a less desirable option for treating malnutrition. This is what makes beta carotene enhanced bananas key to reducing vitamin A deficiency in Uganda.

Banana is Uganda’s major staple food consumed by over 70 percent of Uganda’s population with almost every meal. Uganda is only second to India in banana production and nearly all bananas in Uganda are grown and consumed locally. The estimated consumption is between 220-460 kg per person per year. Uganda consume bananas in a variety of ways: cooked, beer, roasting, and desserts. The cooked type is the most popular and is a part of every meal in Uganda. Enhancing beta-carotene levels in banana would be instrumental in addressing vitamin A deficiency in Ugandan, particularly for pregnant mothers and infants who are the most prone to the deficiency.

Most of the crops in Uganda are biofortified through conventional breeding methods like crossing and artificial selection but according to banana breeders, the technicalities in banana breeding presents challenges that genetic engineering has helped to overcome which has made it possible to develop these bananas when traditional breeding methods failed.

Many Ugandans (including me) are ready to eat this vitamin enhanced banana. Unlike the orange fleshed sweet potato that was developed through conventional breeding, the extra beta-carotene that was introduced into Uganda’s local varieties was through genetic engineering from a wild relative of banana. The anti-GM activists do not like the process and they choose to believe there is no science available to support the crops safety but at the same time, as they are doing in Iowa, any attempt to test for safety is always resisted.

The problem is that Uganda does not have a biosafety law that would enable scientists to do human trials. Attempts to pass the law that would allow this have always been resisted by the anti-GM activists through scare campaigns, like the one they have organized in the U.S. The need to have the biosafety law has been understood by most Ugandan Stakeholders including the Uganda’s President. This leads many to believe that Uganda will soon have the law and will be able to test this banana on Ugandans.

Students from the U.S. who had volunteered to participate in this trial (reportedly 500 volunteers for 12 spaces) should be applauded for their courage to stand in the face of intimidation as they help speed this process of having a better banana served in Uganda. Their effort is in solidarity with Article 11(2) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that recognizes the need for more immediate and urgent steps to ensure the fundamental right to freedom from hunger and malnutrition.

Isaac Ongu is an agriculturist, science writer and an advocate for science based interventions in solving agricultural challenges in developing countries. Follow Isaac on twitter @onguisaac.

  • mem_somerville

    Thanks for the detailed looks at the issues you face. That was very informative.

    The well-fed US college students seem to have some gaps in their knowledge on this.

    • Warren Lauzon

      LOL!! .. “Some” gaps.

      • mem_somerville

        I’m told I need to be nicer to the harmful and clueless. I’m sure they oppose this because I’m intemperate sometimes.

        • gmoeater

          They strain one’s patience with specious argument and tiring nonsense.

        • Eric Bjerregaard

          I’m stunned at this admission.

        • Mlema

          Getting some advice from your industry PR overlords?

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            Degenerating to shill accusations?

          • agscienceliterate

            That’s all she has, Eric. Rant, backed up with shill accusations.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            Actually this is the first one of these I remember from her. I am disappointed. I used to have to look up answers to her points. Or more often wait for Mem, Chris, or one of the other smart folks to explain. As one who used to be way off in his beliefs. I sympathize with those who are sincerely wrong. When I see this. The sympathy vanishes and I begin to think the individual is simply pushing an anti-G.E. agenda for whatever reason. No mas sympathy and no respect.

          • agscienceliterate

            Yes, I think we can detect by the tone, and type of questions, if one has genuine questions and just doesn’t know where to go for reliable answers. This person, plus a few others here, are known for bloviating and bleating, no matter what kind of scientific links are given to them. And then scraping and throwing out the bottom-of-the-barrel shill accusations, yawn. Respecto no mas tambien. Finito.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            My Spanish is limited to what the Mayan guys teach me on landscape jobs. I have to be careful as some think it is real funny to teach the grande gringo bad words. Tambien?

          • agscienceliterate

            Ha!

          • kfunk937

            (y “también,” no está correctamente escrita de esta manera sin accente)Okay, now I’m done bloviating/ pedanticifating…whatever. :-DBtw, swearing is usually more impressive, as well as easier to get away with, in a non-dominant language. Hence I can swear in about 12 languages, while my traveler’s lexicon is more severely limited when it comes to actually useful things (beyond hello, howyadoin’, where’s the restroom/pub? I don’t speak your language, and thanks).

          • kfunk937

            (más)

          • kfunk937

            (más, because spellnig is everthing)

          • agscienceliterate

            I don’t have those accents on the computer I’m using. But yes, you’re correct.

          • kfunk937

            On the CPU, I cut-n-paste from whatever source has the proper alphabet, accents, diacritical marks, etc. On the mobile however, I’m SOL. Thanks for your good-natured reply.

          • agscienceliterate

            I have another language on my mobile, but not on my CPU. Thanks!

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            Many of the words I use on jobs I have never seen written. Some I’m told are actually 2 words. [porkay] Once when some of the guys realized I am not a bigot. They approached me and asked why all the bosses know the phrase undalay, undalay When I answered with speedy Gonzales. They about fell out laughing.

          • Mlema

            This site is just so blatantly industry that I see no reason to provide any sort of cogency. Tired of all the work :) Mary has given me her fair share of insults. It’s probably stupid of me to insult her back in another context. Makes me look like the turd. Oh well! I’m only human.

          • Guest

            I concur with your assessment of that poster.

          • Mlema

            The only person I’ve ever accused of shilling is Bruce Chassy. Overlords don’t pay – so no. I was just wondering who told Mary she needed to be nicer. It’s really not her style.

          • Guest

            Probably no more than from your industry PR overlords.

          • Mlema

            What industry would that be?

          • Guest

            Who are Mary’s industry PR overlords?

          • Mlema

            I don’t know. There are so many possibilities.

          • Guest

            Well then, what is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

          • Mlema

            It’s just a blog. Please do dismiss. It’s really rather between Mary and me, right?

          • Guest

            So I’ve seen. From what I’ve read between you two, her position is better supported, so comments such as those you’ve just made tend to further undermine your credibility.

          • Mlema

            Mary is a highly educated and intelligent person – you shouldn’t expect me to argue with her on her level. But if a blog like GLP is created (so wholly committed to the industry’s agenda) then you have to let people like me make comments too. Mary can be downright mean. I just thought it was interesting that she said someone “told” her to be nice (or whatever the words were that she said). Who would have told her that?

            And why would anyone want her to change her biting wit?

        • agscienceliterate

          Mem, you are waaaaay more tolerant to the harmful and clueless than I am. Intemperate in this case is reasonable.

  • RobertWager

    Thank you Sir.

  • Mlema

    Why don’t they just grow the bananas that already have more precursor in them? Oh right….no biotech royalties.

    • mem_somerville

      What are the royalties on these? I haven’t seen any evidence of that. Please deliver a citation.

    • Eric Bjerregaard

      Did you even check to see if there are royalties involved in this example?

      • Mlema

        No. My bad. I was remembering its development early on. Hard to find the info now, but I remember that the developer was accused of biopiracy in taking the genes of a non-patented banana in order to develop the banana, which I thought was to be sold like other GMOs. Who would complain if it’s going to “save lives” for FREE?

        But there’s a bigger story here. Perhaps not one that GMO fanboys are interested in learning about. The industry wants IN – in Uganda and all of Africa. Whereas the only hope for food security and sovereignty in Africa is increased biodiversity, and probably an agro-ecological approach (which is supported by the IAASTD report)

        Make no mistake – this banana was developed for the GMO-ness of it, not the Vitamin-A-ness. It will prove to be far more important for malnourished Africans to have access to diverse sources of nutrients, like adding the discussed sweet potatoes to their diets.

        Why are the people of Uganda being discussed as if they were children or animals (they don’t like the sweet but Vitamin rich banana, they don’t like the “mushy” sweet potato, etc.) What about getting them the information they need in order to improve their nutrition from foods that are increasingly available?

        Many of these funders are ignorant of the situations they’re trying to help. They’re making these decisions to spend millions of dollars and overlay their own ideas of what ought to work – instead of finding cheaper solutions that will go further towards addressing these problems.

        Maybe I missed something about the development here. And I’ve got nothing against the principle and technology here. But this is a transparent attempt to get the industry’s products into new markets. It’s not as humanitarian as it seems. Follow the money. Yes, even the charitable money. This was a huge investment that could have been better employed to serve the purpose of improving people’s health and dealing with hunger.

        • Eric Bjerregaard

          Whether there is a better way or not is irrelevant. If Gates or whomever decides to spend their money in a less than efficient manner. That is their right. It is their money. Just the research has already put money into the country. How do you know if the banana was developed for “the gmoness of it?” Inside information? If the industry wants in. Fine with me. If Ugandans are good at growing bananas and their is no learning curve. Great. But thanks for admitting you failed to check.

          • Mlema

            You’re welcome. I didn’t check because I thought I already knew, as I explained. Do you have any information on where they got the donor banana from?

            Why is it irrelevant that there’s a better way? Why aren’t scientists heeding the analysis of the IAASTD and instead putting millions and millions into getting a “humanitarian” GMO into Africa?

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            I hate to shock you. But nobody tells me this kind of stuff. It is irrelevant because we have no right to tell Bill how to use his money. A quicker or superior method is might be possible to find. If so, start your own group and go do it. As far as info on the banana chosen. I believe I read that it is an Asian one. I used to grow Musa Sumatrana as an ornamental and got the fruit to ripen a couple of times on the U.F. campus, warm micro-climate. The fruit was worthless. There are also at least 2 that I know of that have delicious fruit that is full of tooth chipping seeds. I have seen orange fleshed plaintains. But do not know where they originated.

          • Mlema

            That’s so disingenuous. Where am I going to get that kind of money? And yes, we can’t tell Bill how to spend his $, but plenty of biotech industry people are doing just that. And having more money than many small countries doesn’t give you a right to determine how a sovereign nation is going to manage its own agricultural resources.

            So you don’t know what the donor banana is?

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            I doubt they are telling him. More likely advising. Folks like him are usually somewhat immune to following instructions. He is not determining how a “sovereign nation is managing it’s resources. He is making more available to them. I can assure you that if the farmers there are as independent as here. They will make the final decisions. I told you all I remember about reading as to the source. And mentioned the Sumatrana as one I know could not be used itself. Seems the flesh was a bit orange though. I will look further. Now I am curious.

          • Mlema

            Sorry i replied while you were editing your comment I guess. I appreciate your demeanor and I apologize if I’ve been less than respectful. I’m feeling a bit punchy but has nothing to do with this discussion and I should refrain from visiting this blog in such a frame of mind.

            I posted this above. It’s not comprehensive, but shows how complicated these issues are, and how one apparently small political move in the US has ramifications around the world. I don’t like the influence that these big corps have – not only in the marketplace, but politically as well.

            OK. Thanks regarding banana info. I had read that it was a sweet banana that the Ugandans didn’t like. That they preferred one which they typically cook to eat.

            http://www.pambazuka.net/en/category.php/comment/65080

            Thank you

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            I was not trying to be disingenuous. I was making the point that you, actually both of us need to accumulate some wealth in order to push progress as you or I may choose.

          • Mlema

            Eric, perhaps I am too idealistic, but I would like to think that people can influence progress regardless of who has the wealth. I know that at a certain level of poverty, a person effectively loses control of his or her own fate. But at the same time – people together can have power.

            The problem is: when the people who have all the wealth get together in opposition to those who have little. Or – maybe not even opposition, but in conflict with the interests of the many.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            Then there is no problem as those with the wealth in this case are attempting to assist those who do not. If they fail completely Uganda still benefits from the money used there and the knowledge gained by local scientists and technicians.

          • Mlema

            Tell me how much money was spent (and it’s not complete yet) to take that particular banana and add a trait from another banana – and then let’s ask the people of Uganda how they think that much money would best benefit their country.

            This is all moot. More than anything, this banana is a way to get the PR that Golden Rice didn’t give. It’s most likely to be safe, whereas trying to engineer a plant like rice to give us beta-carotene is fraught with problems. But as for solving blindness? Not the best investment as far as I’m concerned. Maybe you see this as a good model for humanitarian expenditure, and if so I’ll simply disagree.

            We all have different opinions on how best to help those in need.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            Asupina is the donor variety specifically the APsy2a gene. It is a fei banana, which are from the pacific.

            http://www.promusa.org/Asupina

          • Mlema

            Thanks Dominick! I now am beginning to remember what I had read. I think the same guy that is working on this for Uganda is hoping to use the trait to commercialize a patented for-profit version on the American market. Like Cavendish-plus. But for the life of me, I can’t now find that reference.

            So there the question is: is it fair to take a patent-free banana, extract a trait and then add it to another banana, patent it and sell it back to people?

            Should someone who gained funds to develop a royalty-free food for one country use the same technology to earn profits elsewhere?

            Of course, these are hypothetical questions because I don’t know if that’s what’s going on at this point. But here is something related happening in Europe:
            http://no-patents-on-seeds.org/sites/default/files/news/monsanto_soybean_biopiracy.pdf

            Private interests utilizing public property to earn profits?

          • Dominick Dickerson

            That’s a more nuanced discussion.

            The peculiarities of banana breeding get it tied up with a need for a GE solution but the same Questions would play with other plant breeding methods obviously. If domesticated banana wasn’t triploid this biofortification could be bred into banana without the use of genetic engineering techniques. so needless to say there is a critique of ip protection on plant breeding that is separate from the debate on genetic engineering.

            I think in this instance the plant breeder is using the skills of their art inorder to create a novel plant variety with a useful trait. Do they not deserve some kind of compensation for their efforts? So under our current system the breeders are given a patent with a short lifespan, PVP only lasts for 20-25 years. After that the variety becomes public again. This way after a period of exclusivity the desired genotype comes back into public domain. I think that system is pretty fair.

            A different concern is the question of whether or not there should be greater profit sharing. This is an important one but inorder for that to be done successfully we would need to have some means of recognizing and verifying the various stake holders and just what would be needed in so far as compensation. I personally see a great potential for developing countries to capitalize on biodiversity if we can set up a systems that catalogue organisms found in each counties territory, down to the genomic level and in that way governments in less technologically advanced places can enter into partnerships with private firms for access to genetic information in exchange for sharing in the profits.

            Private interests use public resources for profit all the time. That’s a much broader criticism of economic systems.

          • Mlema

            If a charitable organization pays for the development, and then the industry that funds the charitable organization profits from the development – it sort of like money laundering.

            But that is no comment on what you’re saying – you have made some excellent points imo. It’s important to point out the different scope and character of these various conversations.

            I do, however, see a difference between patented genes and patented seeds. We’ve been growing patented seeds here in the US for decades. But patented genetics brings new restrictions that farmers in some other countries can’t well afford. So I don’t see the kind of profit sharing you describe taking off anytime soon. What I see is those with the money to exploit these resources taking advantage of that ability. No judgement – it’s just the way things are. And to me it points up why we have to look at this things critically and from a global perspective. And with the kind of differentiation you’ve described.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            Is your money laundering scenario really happening though? this is the banana biofortification projects website and list of partners.

            http://www.banana21.org/partners.html

            I don’t see what industry is involved here. It’s being funded in large part via the gates foundation not by the biotech industry. Right now it looks like Queensland University of Technology is the holder of the IP for the biofortified banana. Does the fact that this is a public university change you’re stance at all?

            If the hypothetical “industry” in your scenario wanted to profit from the development why would they farm out the work to the charitable organization in the first place? They could just as easily do the work in house and directly receive credit and profit.

            And not to seem argumentative but I don’t really see that much difference between a utility patent on a gene and a plant variety patent in so far as hypothetical restrictions either type of IP protection may or may not cause on farmers in the developing world. Perhaps you could elaborate your position?

          • Mlema

            Dominick, perhaps some other time as regards the money laundering scenario. It’s pretty thick. And without time to really dig, it comes off looking like paranoia. And this isn’t some nefarious plot, it’s just global business. The link I provided a couple of times on this page gives a very superficial illustration. But I’m not motivated enough to try to explain myself too much. If you are interested in that kind of thing, you can look at some of the Gates Foundation’s operations.

            Regarding the difference between patented seeds and patented genes: for small farmers in the global south, it’s important to own the genetics. Otherwise they’re beholden to the multi-national corporations that control them. You could be growing a patent-free food crop for your family and community, along with crops for bigger markets – saving seeds and maybe even building a nest egg for the bad years if you can produce for a larger market. If I come along, obtain that genome somehow, modify or add a trait, patent it – then take over the market (like bt cotton in India) – you will now find yourself with no access to seeds that you’re allowed to reproduce.

            i think it becomes more obvious if we talk about the plants as if they were animals. If I own goats, and you take one breed of goats that lots of people in my region keep, and you engineer that goat for some desirable trait and show all my neighbors and me how much more profit we’re going to make, and enough of us buy these goats from you – now you own every goat that’s born from my goats. That is: I must pay you every time a goat is born (if I want to keep it) OR the goats are sterile, so I have to buy a new goat from you. Or, I simply can’t breed my goats. Whatever. you get the idea. 50% of agriculture in the global south is the means to keep the whole thing going: seeds and offspring.

            If you live in a country with no national/international market controls – you’re screwed. You’re at the mercy of the multi-national corporation that controls the genome you once used for free.

            This is a fantastic business model for big companies. Food and energy are the world’s profit-makers. But not everybody profits in every scenario. If you want to try to look for the info on wikileaks, or even just research some of the moves Monsanto has made to enter some of these countries, you’ll see why it’s a contentious issue.

            But no – I don’t think we’re being argumentative. We’re seeing this from different viewpoints with different information. And because I’m copping out on the “money laundering” at this time – I’ll give that to you. Maybe another time the subject will arise where we can talk about it more. Thanks.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            Oh I see where you’re mistaken, the patent on a gene doesn’t retroactively apply to natural occurrences of that gene, it only applies to the genetic constructs containing said sequence.

            Let’s not stray into abstractions. Let’s forget the goats and keep talking about this banana. The gene would be covered by patent is the vector construct containing the APsy2a gene along with what ever appropriate sequences are engineered into the vector plasmid. This patent would not extend retroactively onto the Asupina cultivar or onto natural occurrences of the APsy2a sequence.

            As far as the rest of your analogy its really just a critique of modern plant improvement and its attendant legal protections afforded to plant breeders. Farmers aren’t forced to purchase patented traits, although they often choose to because these novel varieties typically offer some kind of agronomic improvements. The exclusivity period on both gene and plant variety patents is limited, it’s only 20 years. IP protection isn’t indefinite.

          • Farmer Sue

            So right! Farmers choose different seeds freely, whether patented, GE, or conventional all the time. There is no coercion.

          • Mlema

            Farmer Sue, you and I don’t know what kinds of challenges farmers in other countries are dealing with. And although there is no coercion, the effect of lack of free access to diverse choices is the same.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            Please show lack of free choice.

          • Mlema

            I think you meant to reply to me below. Farmers have free choice. What I said was “free access to diverse choices”. In India, farmers had developed hundreds of cottons – now, all are bt. Farmers who weren’t happy with the performance of bt (didn’t find they needed less pesticide, for instance) can’t “go back” to royalty-free cottons because they’re all engineered with a patented trait now.

            This isn’t just a GMO problem. If you study the history of colonialism in the tropics, you’ll find a tempestuous story of conflicts wherein local varieties are exploited via plantations for foreign markets and the diversity of local fauna suffers.

            The banana is a classic example. It’s the origin of the term “banana republic”.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            I have read a good bit of history and am aware of colonial history. I am also aware of the danger of answering “true” if a question uses the words all or never. I am sure there are sources of nongmo seeds. I am simply not motivated enough to bother looking it up. This is more fun. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0nDhQEIdSQ&ebc=ANyPxKq3prZWQseORYZ24DRputxBGRO-Unkao1CG2x-vSoK3z8L-6jaEWEKLlVa5rIWaMN7rivPlTMUkwSsHHiedLRrkplX5Ag

          • Mlema

            I didn’t say the patent applied to natural occurrences of the gene. I’m saying that: unlike the patented seeds we in the US have been growing for years, patented GMOs cannot be reproduced. It’s easier for most people to understand if they think about animals because it’s so obvious you don’t want livestock that you can’t breed.

            So, in the case of the banana: The funds that supported the isolation and development of the construct, and then patented it – were used to develop the banana for Uganda (because the people there don’t like the sweet banana that the gene came from??? Even though it’s millions of dollars cheaper and would help prevent blindness and death?) – can now be used to “biofortify” Cavendish, and sell with what amounts to a royalty – thus increasing cost at questionable value. And the source of the profit can be traced back to “charity”. In the meantime, bio-protective laws in Africa are written to allow the humanitarian effort, and the gate is opened for further genetic alteration of the nation’s genetic wealth (whatever that is) – to be sold back at a profit, taking control away from the farmers.

            Again – farming in the global south is NOT farming in the US. There are too many factors affecting the differences for either of us to make such authoritative statements regarding the benefit or harm of introducing US-style farming to these areas. I personally think it’s a big mistake. They don’t have the infrastructure and can’t afford it. If you want to sell them pesticide-resistant crops, and pesticide – where are they going to get the means to utilize them? They need to be given the science with the co=operation of scientists there, so their agricultural practices can best adapt to that climate and those regional resources. But global ag corporations want to get into those markets, and they have very few paradigms to market.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            The fei bananas that contain the high levels of beta carotene are not indigenous to Africa and themselves have agronomic drawbacks. The Asupina variety isn’t a sweet banana, fei bananas as a cultivar group tend to have higher starch content and were a staple in the pacific along with taro before the introduction of sweet potato.

            So the researchers in this project are a collaborative team from a public university in Australia along with the national agriculture department of Uganda. If the holder of the IP on this technology chooses to license it out to someone who wants to insert the trait into cavendish bananas that’s their prerogative so long as they have exclusivity of ownership (20 years) of the trait. That’s not unreasonable. I don’t see how an argument could be made that NARO is biopirating its own crops.

            This project has nothing to do with promoting us style agriculture. It’s a collaboration between an Australian public university and the national agriculture departments of Uganda. These are Ugandans who are looking for biotech solutions to their agricultural issues facing banana whether it’s biofortification or disease resistance.

            Many places in the global south are looking to biotechnology as part of a sustainable approach to 21st century agriculture. In Bangladesh their ministry of agriculture is actively pursuing biotech improvement of crops ranging from potato and eggplant to several different strains of biofortified rice.

            Many people in the developing world want biotechnology, the west isn’t forcing it on them.

          • Mlema

            First of all, I want to note that you haven’t acknowledged the differences between patented seeds and patented genes and how those differences affect indigent farmers in the global south. You brushed it aside as an “abstraction”.

            Secondly, I’d be interested in what “agronomic drawbacks” there would be to growing the fei bananas. I’m not saying there aren’t any, but – here’s a possible problem with introducing the GMO: if this is a staple of the Ugandan diet, and the GMO is engineered to “overexpress” the VitA precursor, we have no idea what it will mean to human health to eat large amounts of this banana every day. This isn’t a Golden Rice scenario, where we’re really pushing the envelope genetically, but there are questions of altering the nutritional profile of a staple food in a region where it will be difficult to monitor effects.

            Third – why? There are inexpensive options, rich in Vit A: sweet potato, and the “Moringa leaf” (being used in Tanzania to address deficiency) are a couple of examples. These can be incorporated into the diet without altering a carb staple. I would compare this banana endeavor to adding Vit A to sugar in the US. How do you control the dosage? And just as importantly: how do we know it will work? The tests in the US are marketing trials, not feeding trials. This undertaking needs to be very carefully monitored in Uganda.

            Fourth – The genes for this GMO were basically pirated from the banana developed by local communities in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. An earlier researcher identified a number of bananas rich in beta-carotene and worked to help local communities re-incorporate those varieties into their diets – helping to secure local diversity.

            So – Gates gives $15 million to a program in Australia, which takes the genes from a previously developed cultivar in New Guinea, patents them, adds the genes to the Ugandan banana as a humanitarian effort, and then engineers varieties popular in the North.

            The industry is attempting to move into other areas of the food sector, since the pesticide-producing, pesticide-resistant paradigm is wearing thin. It’s not working as well anymore, and the choices of commodities into which it can be engineered is reaching mass. The next “big thing” is nutritional supplementation. An entirely un-necessary and possibly dangerous new profit goal. There’s absolutely no need to engineer nutritional changes when the better solution is to identify local sources and develop those (as the earlier researcher did with the red banana in Micronesia)

            It’s a ploy to get profitable gene constructs into a larger portion of the global food market. And it’s basically stealing from the people who developed those foods in the first place.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            1) you’ve failed to demonstrate there are any meaningful differences between the impacts of patenting of an artificial gene sequence and patenting on a plant variety. Both entail exclusivity on the part of the IP holder, both have a comparable lifespan (20 years). Similar to how PVP does not allow for patenting of non novel varieties gene patenting does allow for ip protection of naturally occurring genes. So the hypothethetical IP holders for this banana project do not have ip protection over the Asupina variety nor do they have ownership of naturally occurring APsy2a sequences. I can’t acknowledge what is not there

            2)http://www.promusa.org/Fei+bananas
            “Interest in these bananas, however, has grown after studies showed that they have high levels of carotenoids, which are converted in the body to vitamin A. Agronomically, however, they tend to be susceptible to pests and diseases, do not produce many suckers and take a long time to produce a bunch.”

            As to your second point, figuring out at what level beta carotene is expressed and how much of that is bioavailble is the purpose of the experiment being conducted in Iowa that this article is discussing.

            3) if dietary diversification were a realistic solution don’t you think the Ugandan people would have tried it? They aren’t stupid.

            And the tests being conducted in Iowa are feeding studies to determine bioavailability of beta carotene not marketing trials.

            4) prudent use of genetic resources by public institutions in Australia and Uganda isn’t “biopiracy” and the Gates foundation isn’t the holder of the intellectual property, their merely funding the various public research entities working on this project. And as far as I know the gate foundation isn’t working on engineering it and selling it to the global north. You’ll have to pony up a citation for that claim.

            There is no industry involved in this banana project or the other disease resistance projects Uganda is developing, these are initiatives by public research entities. The same is true for Cassava which is also being biofortified for many things beta carotene iron vitamin b6 as well as viral resistance.

            I’m sorry you feel that way but there is no “ploy” and it’s not really theft.

          • Mlema

            1) the difference is in how the seeds can be utilized. It’s really a fundamental difference, and if you re-consider my goat example, it will hopefully become more clear.

            2) If that’s the case, then it wouldn’t be a good solution in Uganda. So, other plants would be a better solution.

            3) What you’re saying here is crass. You need to show that dietary diversification can’t work. Instead you’re trying to make this into a choice between: either dietary diversification doesn’t work or Ugandans are stupid. This is the point I tried to address earlier: like the idea that Uganda’s won’t eat sweet potatoes because they’re “mushy” – so we have to get these poor Ugandans some beta-carotene rich versions of something they already eat. Insulting.

            4) The money was put up by Gates – for initiatives that fit the ideology of the Foundation. Dale came up with a perfect fit: Vit A bananas. He already had the genetic resources from another researcher’s earlier work in Papua New Guinea. The banana doesn’t belong to Australia. And I believe it is Dale himself who is exploring commercial options. So – the money from a charitable organization (once invested in Monsanto by the way) ends up supporting biotech foods on the global market.

            As I said earlier, this isn’t about conspiracy – it’s just the global operations of multi-national corporations. Using foundation money to develop what ends as private interest is nothing new. There are numerous examples. I’d like to see a closer alliance between organizations like the Gates Foundation and scientific organizations that would understand the deeper issues of hunger. That way, the money could be used to effect comprehensive improvements, not techno-fix ideas that don’t address fundamental issues that underlie hunger.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            1) you’re not explaining what you perceive is the difference very well.

            2) which is why they looking to move the trait for beta carotene synthesis fromAsupina into regional appropriate cultivars of EAHB.

            3) you go spend you’re time convincing Ugandas to eat sweet potato. The people in Uganda’s governments responsible for agriculture research want to explore biofortification of banana in partnership with QUT.

            4) The research was originally done in cavendish and lady’s fingers cultivars because those are the model cultivars of banana. Once the biofortification pathway was described and created in the model varieties in Australia they transferred the technology to plant breeders in Uganda for them to make their own varieties. If Dr. Dale is the IP holder and wants to commercialize his novel banana variety that his prerogative and he’ll get 20 years of exclusive ownership on that IP and then the variety goes back to being public property

            You’re coming from a position where supporting biotechnology is something to be suspicious of. That opinion is not supported by a great many people, most importantly that opinion is not supported by the people of Uganda, whose national agricultural research organization is the spearheading this effort with assistance from the QUT and funding from the gates foundation, who’s role as philanthropists supporting a great many public and ngo sponsored projects exploring and developing solutions to agricultural issues through science and technology.

          • Mlema

            1) I’ll try again: the difference is: I own the seeds from the seeds or I don’t. In the global south, owning the seeds is very important. In the US and the rest of the developed world, not so much.

            2) OK. And is one reason why it would be cheaper and more efficient to develop local sources that already do well in that area.

            3) I’m not going to discuss that with you any further. You’ve determined what Ugandans want based on press releases. You’re trying to tell me that people going blind from lack of Vit A won’t eat sweet potatoes? or other foods that can be grown locally? give me a break.

            4) The research was done on varieties identified by another scientist who “discovered” them in Papua New Guinea.
            http://www.promusa.org/Lois+Englberger

            The genes don’t belong to Dr. Dale. And it wasn’t his money that allowed him to develop the new banana. Any financial gains from the work should be put back into improving nutrition in poor nations – as was the original intent of the Gates money. It’s wrong to benefit personally if you’re being paid a salary and the work is funded by charity. That’s what I meant by money laundering. If I’m working at a university, and because of that I’m eligible to receive a large grant to do work for humanitarian purposes, I don’t get to use the research to make myself or some other private interest rich. Usually this isn’t one person who gets rich – it’s “industry cooperation” – and a biotech company capitalizes on the public research.

            “You’re coming from a position where supporting biotechnology is
            something to be suspicious of. That opinion is not supported by a great
            many people, most importantly that opinion is not supported by the
            people of Uganda, whose national agricultural research organization is
            the spearheading this effort with assistance from the QUT and funding
            from the gates foundation, who’s role as philanthropists supporting a
            great many public and ngo sponsored projects exploring and developing
            solutions to agricultural issues through science and technology. ”

            Well! That is one long sentence. And you accused ME of hyperbole! Oh, and this part: “”You’re coming from a position where supporting biotechnology is
            something to be suspicious of. ”
            is bullsh*t, just so you know.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            1) it’s really a rather moot point because in this instance and in the other instances of biofortification the technology is being given to plant breeders in the developing world do as they see fit and incorporate it into their own national crop breeding programs. There’s no predatory patent trolls looking to pinch the developing world in the case of these biofortified crops.

            2) I’ll leave the decisions that NARO makes for setting Ag research policy in Uganda to the Ugandan’s making those decisions.

            3) I’m informing my opinion on what Ugandans want based on this and other testimony from Ugandans who are the ones working in NARO.

            4) were getting ahead of ourselves. We’ve both been talking hypotheticals here let’s take stock of the facts.

            A) we don’t know what kinds of patents are on the biofortified banana if there even are patents on it
            B) we don’t know definitely who the actual owner of the patent/s is/are if they do exists
            C) aside from your specious claim I have yet to see any solid evidence that Dr. Dale or anyone is looking to commercialize the APsy2a trait in export bananas for western markets,

            You’re whole point #4 is another exercise in windmill tilting at this juncture.

          • Mlema

            OK goodnight.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            You still havent provided a citation for the claim that the APsy2a is being commercialized in export bananas. I can’t find anything suggesting such.

            After all that self righteous indignation about biopiracy and exploitation, we still don’t even have evidence that any of it is actually happening in this instance.

          • Mlema

            I never made any such claim. I said we’ll have to wait and see.

            Biopiracy is taking the genes from a plant cultivated by people other than yourself and using it to make another plant without their permission or without benefiting them.

            Goodnight.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            Really? you went on for quite some time about a money laundering analogy and about ploys on the part of nefarious unnamed biotech companies trying to plunder biodiversity.

            Then you said this

            “4) The money was put up by Gates – for initiatives that fit the ideology of the Foundation. Dale came up with a perfect fit: Vit A bananas. He already had the genetic resources from another researcher’s earlier work in Papua New Guinea. The banana doesn’t belong to Australia. And I believe it is Dale himself who is exploring commercial options. So – the money from a charitable organization (once invested in Monsanto by the way) ends up supporting biotech foods on the global market.”

            Emphasis mine

            You also said this.

            “So – Gates gives $15 million to a program in Australia, which takes the genes from a previously developed cultivar in New Guinea, patents them, adds the genes to the Ugandan banana as a humanitarian effort, and then engineers varieties popular in the North.”

            You at multiple points asserted exactly what you’re now claiming you never said. Granted you claimed at different points that it was Bill Gates who’s patenting the. Then you claimed in was Dr. Dale. The narrative gets a little murky, but you most definetely made that claim.

            I think posting screen grabs is tacky, I trust you won’t retroactively edit your posts.

          • Mlema

            No, actually I said I didn’t want to go on at all about money laundering because I didn’t want to try to explain that side of the issue. But I ended up explaining some of it anyway.

            And I do believe that Dale is exploring commercial options. And “exploring” means: not in existence yet. And I also said we’d have to wait and see. And I also specifically said NOT nefarious, just global business as usual.
            Why are you now choosing to try to mischaracterize what I’ve said?

            Edit – and you’ve taken what I said out of context (obviously) because I said it was hypothetical. You are low.

            Edit – sorry. I got angry because you’re misrepresenting what I said. But you’re not low. It’s just a low thing to do.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            Where does the belief that Dr. Dale is looking to commercialize this trait in export bananas come from? Because his research used two common cultivars, Cavendish and Ladys Fingers as models?

            I guess what you choose to believe is your prerogative but I haven’t even seen so much as a sentence or any quote from him or QUT suggesting he’s looking to do any such thing. From whence does you’re belief come?

            I’ve seen a couple of expressly anti biotech articles from the ecologist and navdanya trying to make the same assertions you are, but they provide no hard evidence that it’s even being explored and instead are just a slew of their normal antibiotech rambling and supposition about the intentions of The Gates foundation and Dr. Dale.

            While we were arguing about hypothetical patent law application, neither of us managed to actually determine if there are patents on this variety and you still haven’t provided a citation to back up the claim that Dr. Dale is commercializing this trait. I have seen no evidence that the APsy2a gene from Asupina is protected via patent and I don’t see any evidence of any private actor looking to commercialize this trait in export bananas for western markets.

            The act of taking the gene from Asupina and putting it in other banana varieties isn’t biopiracy. According this document http://www.musalit.org/viewPdf.php?file=IN060615_eng.pdf&id=10214,

            In 1988, a project on banana germplasm collecting in Papua New Guinea was initiated by IBPGR and QDPI, in co-operation with the PNG Department of Agriculture and Livestock and with assistance from INIBAP. A series of four collecting missions took place between 1988 and 1989…A total of 264 accessions were collected during these missions and prospected areas covered the continental provinces of the country as well as the islands of New Britain, New Ireland and Manus (see map). The collected material was established in vitro in Australia (QDPI) where disease indexing took place. Having completed disease indexing, clean planting material was returned to Papua New Guinea for establishment in the National Banana Germplasm Collection at Laloki, Port Moresby. The germplasm was also duplicated in vitro at the INIBAP Transit Centre for maintenance and further distribution. In October 1994 INIBAP signed an agreement with FAO whereby material held in the genebank became part of an International Network of Ex Situ Collections, under the auspices of FAO. As a result, the material held at the ITC, including the PNG germplasm, continues to be available to all on the understanding that it remains in the public domain.”

            So absent some definitive proof that there’s even a patent on this variety at all, it simply can not be asserted that the act of taking the gene from Asupina and transforming it into other varieties is “biopiracy”. The Asupina germplasm is freely available for use in breeding programs and this extends even to genetic engineering, the only provision is that the Asupina germplasm itself must remain in the public domain.

          • Mlema

            Thanks for giving us all a lot of information that helps “flesh out” the discussion.

            Thank you for the linked document, which I guess I have to read now, but don’t have time. Can you tell me where it talks about how the people who originally created the banana from which the gene was isolated, were compensated for their role in development?

            Here’s the difference between most GMO seeds and the seeds that farmers in the global south now use: The seeds they now use can provide new seeds to plant again. GMO seeds can’t be harvested for re-use. Not ALL GMO seeds. Just 99% of those on the market, and which companies like Monsanto want to get into countries in Africa and elsewhere. It’s a very simple but important difference – one that’s hardly noticed here in the US, where most commodities are grown as hybrids or hybrid GMOs, but one that matters greatly to farmers trying to keep control of their own farms.

            The biotech industry is now trying to “educate” consumers to believe that there’s no difference between hybrids and GMOs, and other patented seeds. But there is a difference.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            No problem.

            I don’t think there was direct compensation. From my reading of that document the government of New Guinea is working in partnership with several organizations inorder to catalogue and preserve its biodiversity of banana cultivars ex situ. The aim would be that the germplasm could be freely used as parent material by banana breeders, meaning improved cultivars for a crop that increasingly is being devastated by fungal and bacterial pathogens.

            I understand the importance of seed saving but it does come at a trade off. Let’s just look at corn for the sake of argument. Average yields in Africa for maize are extremely low compared to america or Europe. Most of the figures I’ve seen put African yield under 50 Bu/acre, by comparison in the United States we’re regularly nearing 150 Bu/acre. This is due to a syngestic effect of many factors but the perhaps the two most impactful are variety choice and easy access to modern fertilizers and chemicals. Without access to those things I can’t see a way for African farmers to meaningfully improve their maize yields. The biggest problem is that subsistence farming, the kind that many Africans are still engaging in tends towards inefficiency and it’s in subsistence farming that seed saving is important.

            We may disagree on this point but the cycle of poverty seen in the developing world can not be addressed through subsistence farming, it simply does not create food security and it doesn’t improve farmer livelihoods. What Developing countries need is improvement in their infrastructure and to begin moving away from subsistence farming. having access to regionally appropriate modern varieties is a way towards that.

            And in the case of the banana that’s precisely what NARO and the Ugandan government is trying to do through their banana improvement program with the help of QUT and other international partners. Once farmers in Uganda have access to the traits they’re working on (biofortification and disease resistance) it’s going to greatly improve farmer livelihoods by reducing losses to devastating disease like Xanthomonas Wilt and a step towards ensuring improved nutrition.

            I think what’s important to keep in mind here is that we both likely have similar goals, we just differ on our approach to achieving them.

          • kfunk937

            Awesome comment, wow. If anyone thinks that “we” don’t care about preserving diversity or protecting small farmers, they’re wrong.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            Exactly.

            Unfortunately the human mind is predisposed towards tribalism. It’s really easy, especially in these kinds of discussions, to fall into “us vs them” thinking. I’m just as guilty of that as anyone and engaging with keyboard warriors with vastly different opinions the hostility and disjunction gets exaggerated. But what we can’t do is lose sight of the common goals we share.

          • Mlema

            I agree with “moving away from subsistence farming” and “having access to regionally appropriate modern varieties”. I would simply add that in many cases the way forward sometimes includes a step back. For example: the contribution of Lois Englberger in identifying sources of beta carotene in traditional diets.

            Africa has been struggling with hunger and malnutrition since Europeans attempted to “farm” there. Please don’t misunderstand: there’s no going back. But I feel it’s short-sighted for the Gates Foundation to put 15 million into this development, which will require much more expenditure before it can even be considered as part of any solution. Improving the health of regional crops begins with resource management, following the science.

            I don’t see good success for the global south following the pattern of the “green revolution”. We are struggling in this country now with water resources, pesticide run-off, etc. Experts predict that if we don’t change something drastically, the Ogallala aquifer will be depleted. GMOs can deal more quickly with disease, but unless better IPM is implemented, those GMOs fall victim. I feel it’s time to face facts. And there are a lot of farmers in Africa that don’t want the MNCs coming in. And they see this as back-door entry.

            Thank you. I think you’re right. We see this differently.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            This effort isn’t alone in a vacuum. The banana 21 project is just one such projects bridging the gap between the needs of developing and capacity building potential of the developed world. More importantly it’s Ugandan researchers that are taking the lead in this project through NARO. The gates foundation didn’t just one day up and decide, Ugandans need this banana so we’re forcing it on them. If NARO didn’t want this banana, then the gates foundation wouldn’t be helping to fund the collaboration.

            If there are Africans who think that a public research university working with a government Ag research organization is a “back door” for MNCS, I would challenge them to prove a commercial connection between the banana 21 project and some corporate entity. Just as I’ve done with you. Once they couldn’t show evidence for such, I would ask that they revise their opinion based on the evidence (or in this case lack of evidence) in support of the initial claim.

          • Mlema

            OK. Goodnight.

          • kfunk937

            Where’d you get this?

            Here’s the difference between most GMO seeds and the seeds that farmers in the global south now use: The seeds they now use can provide new seeds to plant again. GMO seeds can’t be harvested for re-use.

            No “terminator seeds” have ever been commercialised. Sounds like another Vandana lie to me.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            To give mlema the benefit of the doubt, I believe they’re talking about compliance with IP protection that runs contrary to traditional seed saving.

            They never indicated they believed GURT technologies were being used in the back and forths I had with them.

          • Mlema

            There are no terminator seeds currently being used. Right now the industry has promised that in food crops they will not engineer “terminator seeds”.

            I perhaps didn’t write enough to make my point clear:
            Most GMOs are sold under contracts that prevent use of any seeds from that GMO. In the US and other developed countries, this isn’t much of an issue, since the engineered hybrids are usually not re-planted anyway (quality issue). However, in regions where it’s vital that farmers ARE the seed developers, this doesn’t work. Having to output money for seeds is impractical. And they know best which qualities they need to preserve.

          • Mlema

            Find the quote where I said Bill Gates is patenting anything.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            My apologize in the second quote it was ambiguous when I read it late last night. Upon rereading its clearer that you saying its someone in Australia who’s patenting it, but we still don’t know if that’s the case.

            I’ve done several searches for patents on either banana biofortification or the APsy2a sequence and I’m getting no hits. While we were arguing over hypotheticals perhaps it would be more instructive if you can point out if this is patented and who the patent holder is.

          • Mlema

            I didn’t say anyone was patenting it, as far as I can remember. I said I thought that was the plan – to compete on a level with Dole and Chiquita. In that case, there would be profits from genetics that were gained without benefit to those who originally cultivated that particular banana. I don’t know what the plan is beyond what you’re saying.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            Okay, I have seen no evidence for that. So barring evidence to the contrary, I think we can both agree that at this juncture that no biopiracy is occurring in regards to this specific banana improvement initiative, regardless of what Navdanya and Oliver Tickell say.

          • Mlema

            Agree to disagree. Whenever the genetics of a cultivated plant are used to develop a patented trait without compensating the people who developed it – and especially if it’s sold back to them (as was the goal with brinjal by Monsanto in india) – that’s biopiracy.

            Just because national or international groups conduct the activity doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong. A lot of government officials in India wanted the bt brinjal, because it would make money for their interests. There were many questions that weren’t considered because on the face of it this appears to be economic growth. But the science and the question of: who benefits? remain.

            In a country where labor is more plentiful than cash, IPM is the safest and most sustainable and secure way to implement the goals that MNCs like Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta would like us to believe are only reachable with their products.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            I don’t want to seem obsessive, but unless you have specific evidence otherwise then the banana 21 project simply can not be considered biopiracy. The initial trait was not stolen without permission it was given to the international community by Papua New Guinea for the purpose of cataloguing and maintaining diverse germplasm to be used for international breeding purposes. There really isn’t room for disagreement, unless of course you have proof that this trait is being commercialized.

          • Mlema

            It’s ok. I’m the same way. At this point it hasn’t been commercialized, although money has been made. Without the genes, no $15 million from the Gates Foundation. But again, until we see the trait being sold, it’s hard to characterize it as biopiracy. We shall see. It will be some time before this all falls out. Time enough to grow plenty of sweet potatoes ;)

          • Dominick Dickerson

            Not to quibble but I would hardly categorize the philanthropic spending of the gates foundation as someone “making money”. It’s rather demeaning to the researchers who work on these projects to cast them in such a light. Theyre not profiting from the exchange, theyre having their research funded.

            For those people who see dietary diversification as being a useful tool, I wish them all the success in the world promoting that solution. I continue to support the Ugandan farmers and researchers who wish to use a safe technology and modern plant breeding to create biofortified and disease resistant local cultivars banana, their preferred staple.

          • Mlema

            You’re very committed to this means of development. To me, it’s not a good value. And I don’t like that the corporations that now control it would very much like to have a patented trait in every staple commodity crop.

            I see the fact that this GMO banana is being discussed this way as nothing more than one more PR tool for the industry. The CEO of Gates is all about industry-public co-operation, which is great. But if you’ve got 500K shares of Monsanto, and you’re engineering a banana help open markets for biotech products in Africa, I think it’s all a little bit too cozy between the different interests here.

            If your commitment to this banana is really just about improving nutrition for Ugandans, then that’s admirable. I can’t help but be cynical regarding the goals here (not yours). And of course, we have to consider that there’s some ignorance involved here. It’s really not unusual for the well-meaning to miscalculate how their efforts will effect change. And I’m not an expert in this arena, obviously. But I don’t believe that this idea came from Ugandans. I suspect that academics in Uganda would have some differing ideas about how such an investment could help their needs. And as far as farmers proving that there’s commercial benefit from the banana elsewhere – that’s not the issue. It’s about companies like Monsanto trying to turn a profit by getting its products into the agriculture of countries in Africa and elsewhere. That’s not helpful.

            This is my personal orientation to these issues. If a person is tuned into the kind of harm that global corporations have done in undeveloped regions, the suspicion doesn’t seem so unreasonable.

            Like everyone else, I have to wait and see what the news is out of Uganda, whenever the banana finally is growing and people are eating it. And of course, will have to be careful who’s news I’m reading. People shouldn’t be getting their info from places like this.

          • agscienceliterate

            You really hate the fact that creative scientists are finding new innovative ways to make better food, and to find ways to battle diseases that affect crops. It seems like your worldview is actually pretty selfish,

          • Mlema

            I’m saying that unless we incorporate better IPM, GMO disease solutions are no better than any other. They can be developed faster, but they cost more. They fall victim to the same problems that other development does if it’s not incorporated into better IPM. And the biggest difference? More profit for investors instead of farmers, and academic / public scientists.

          • agscienceliterate

            Perhaps that is not up to you. Perhaps you should leave that decision to the farmers who know what they’re doing. Perhaps your opinion is irrelevant unless it’s your own farm you are talking about. Perhaps you are not the boss of everybody.

          • Mlema

            The boss of everybody? Gimme an ever-loving break.

          • agscienceliterate

            Yup. You seem to have lots of opinions about how farmers and scientists and people in other countries should be running their lives. You are not the boss of them. Oh, I’m sure your opinions are of extremely high value and they log in every day just to see what new ideas you have that you advise them to do, and they probably pay you a lot as a consultant to help them along. Right? Thought not. (Hubris, much?)

          • Mlema

            You’re way off. And I can tell you this: no one of any consequence is “logging in” to see anything on GLP.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            But corporations don’t control the banana 21 project. as far as I can tell the development of this program and these improved varieties is supported via grants and is being done through public universities and research centers. There’s no patent here.

            The banana 21 project is not about opening up African markets to biotech, it’s about Ugandans working together with the developed world to leverage new and advanced technologies to address Ugandan agricultural issues. Will much of the misunderstand and fear dissapate surrounding biotech once Ugandans see their own scientists using this technology to improve their own lives? I certainly hope so, considering as of now we have anti-GM activist groups from the US and Europe spreading misinformation in Africa claiming GE crops make you sterile and other such nonsenses.

            This project is not about Monsanto or any other company trying to sell seeds in Africa. Opponents of genetic engineering see the fact that this project, initiated by Ugandans working with public research groups and funded by NGOs , defies all the activist narratives about genetic engineering and that’s a problem for them. I learned long ago to separate criticisms of industry from criticisms of the technology.

            You’re free to hold whatever suspicions you see fit about the motivations and practices of Monsanto et al., but it’s absolutely without justification to contend that public research on genetic engineering like the banana 21 project is really just a front for corporate interests.

          • Mlema

            “…it’s about Ugandans working together with the developed world to
            leverage new and advanced technologies to address Ugandan agricultural
            issues.”

            It will perhaps be a better PR tool than Golden Rice.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            I’m sorry that you feel so cynically towards the humanitarian banana 21 project, which again is a partnership between QUT ( a public university) and NARO (the National Agriculture Research Organization of Uganda) facilitated through the philanthropy of the Gates foundation and supported by CGIAR.

            It’s purpose is not PR.

          • Mlema

            It’s purpose may not be PR, but that’s the purpose for which it’s being used. Otherwise, more effective and less expensive means of improving the nutrition in Uganda would have similar press coverage by corporate media.

          • agscienceliterate

            Perhaps you should contact the Ugandan government and tell them you have better ideas about how they should address their nutrition issues. Maybe they will hire you to be their consultant. Um, maybe not. (Hubris, much?)

          • Mlema

            You suggested that you were going to give me those e-mail addresses. As of yet, you’ve failed to do so. I thank you in advance for providing them.

          • agscienceliterate

            Naaaah, changed my mind. If you want to be an arrogant know-it-all and busybody, and if you wish to contact the Ugandan government with your brilliant and compelling arguments about how they should solve their food problems, you should look up how to do that yourself. Let us know how that works out for ya. (Hubris, much?)

          • Mlema

            But I never wished to contact the Ugandan government. I was going to do it because it seemed like you wanted me to. It was about my devotion to you.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            the only reason this research got this tiny amount of press coverage is because of anti-GE protests over the bioavailability studies being conducted here in the US not because of some coordinated media blitz by “corporations”. No ones plugging GE bananas as the cureall for Uganda in “corporate media”. They’re not even talking about it in really any capacity that I’ve seen.

            what alternative means have been shown to be “more effective”? Dietary diversification is not a viable strategy, for whatever reason. The idea that Ugandans need to be told by the west to just eat more sweet potato is incredibly paternalistic and insulting to their intelligence and agency as full realized human beings.

            Why do you object to the country of Uganda setting its own Ag research goals? NARO clearly sees the value in exploring biotech solutions, and since they and not you decide their research goals can you atleast respect their agency?

            Not that what two western 1st worlders say on a website really impacts the reality on the ground. I’m just very troubled by your continued insistence on spinning a humanitarian project into being some kind of PR ploy. Ultimately it reflects more on you than it does on the actual facts regarding the banana 21 project.

          • Mlema

            You haven’t explained why dietary diversification (which is healthier for many reasons besides increasing Vit A) isn’t a viable strategy. I gave you a couple of examples of foods that can be grown in the region, and I’m sure there are more. As for the rest of what you’re saying: you’re twisting my words. I never said “Ugandans need to be told by the west to just eat more sweet potato”. I said it was insulting to imply that people who are dying for lack of Vit A won’t eat sweet potatoes because they’re “mushy”.

            This is the same argument as for Golden Rice: people must be eating only rice because they like to eat only rice? The areas where populations are at risk due to lack of Vit A are capable of developing sources of Vit A. Everyone deserves a varied diet that provides all necessary nutrients. And that, in my opinion, is where the science and money should go.

            For whatever reason, you are highly committed to this banana. I have no vested interest either way, and no further interest in defending my position that this banana will be used by the industry one way and/or another: to market GMOs, or to directly engineer bananas for the US market. The Gates Foundation is invested in the GMO industry, and those at the helm are industry-friendly. That’s how you get things done. But it’s also how you turn world agriculture over to private interests. This is something I don’t want to see and only time will tell whether or not my cynicism is justified. There’s plenty of evidence that companies like Monsanto will resort to any means to promote their products internationally. We will hopefully see a good result with the banana, and hopefully more public ownership of agricultural development, not less.

            Since you’ve said that “two western 1st worlders” won’t impact reality, I fail to see why anything I’m saying is troubling to you. We obviously just don’t agree. So what?

          • Dominick Dickerson

            But this banana has nothing to do with corporations and your ” position that this banana will be used by the industry one way and/or another: to market GMOs, or to directly engineer bananas for the US market” is wholly unsupported by any evidence at all. You’ve seemingly just got an axe to grind against biotechnology and want to criticise how other people spend their money. If you think science priorities and money should be going to other projects, by all means be the change you wish to see in the world. You can spend your money how you see fit and the gates foundation will spend theirs.

            I’m basing my belief that dietary diversification doesn’t work based on the testimony of Ugandan researchers and the fact that VAD isn’t a new problem. Don’t you think if the answer were as simple as “grow different crops”, that Ugandans would have made a dent in alleviating it? Yet they haven’t. I could list you 50 foods, but if Ugandans don’t want to grow them and they don’t want to eat it them then it’s not a workable strategy. Africa isn’t a continent of children to be dictated to and who’s will is to be contradicted by well meaning western activists. in Uganda they want to pursue biotech improvements in banana for improved nutrition and disease resistence. The very least we in the west can do is support their agency rather than undermining it as you would have us do.

            It’s troubling to me because while what you or I say specifically may be inconsequential, attitudes in the west towards biotechnology definetely influence how such technology is perceived and implemented in places like Africa. And what we’re seeing here with the protests is American activists essentially telling Ugandans that well fed westerners know better than they do regarding Ugandan ag issues. Perhaps you can contact those protestors and ask them why they spend time and money opposing a solution rather than implementing their own, which is the same criticism I level at other regressive environmental groups like Greenpeace. I think they and your attitudes and actions are a grave misuse of our privilege and capacity as members of the developed world.

          • agscienceliterate

            It is just another anti-corporate rant by a hippie who thinks s/he has something of value to offer people in another country s/he knows nothing about. American imperialism and incredible hubris. Reminds me of one of our presidential candidates, actually.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            I’m sure mlema has all the best intentions. its just in this instance they choose to believe their own pet theory about corporate malfeasance and ulterior motives being at the root of this incredible humanitarian effort. Beliefs are fickle and funny things. Which is why dispassionate examination of evidence is preferable to gut feelings.

          • agscienceliterate

            Good intentions without dispassionate commitment to factual discovery, is, unfortunately, quite worthless and has paved a road or two, or so I am told.

          • Mlema

            Sorry – I made a mistake here and am deleting this comment by editing. My apologies.

          • Mlema

            “I’m sure mlema has all the best intentions.”

            Patronizing. It’s obvious that your support for this project is about GMO promotion / defense. All your disqus comments are about GMO promotion / defense. This banana has interest for you only as an example of a GMO which may serve a humanitarian purpose – a means by which to improve PR for GMO products.

            There’s no evidence that you have any humanitarian interests outside humanitarian GMOs and how they can serve to advance the industry’s goals. You’re on the side of industry regardless of the product or it’s effects on people or the environment. For you, there can be no deleterious or even simply worthless GMO.

          • Mlema

            I guess this is the means by which you “win” the day: reply to someone besides me, but make comments about me. Such a coward.

          • Mlema

            ” I think they and your attitudes and actions are a grave misuse of our privilege and capacity as members of the developed world.”

            You’re entitled to your opinion. However, you should be aware that it’s straight out of the industry’s PR playbook. Suggesting that those who are critical of the industry’s agenda in the 3rd world are gravely misusing their privilege, is just a way to try to shut the critics up – by trying to make them seem ignorant, insensitive, or even spoiled. I’ll grant you there are plenty of spoiled Americans, but trying to paint me thusly just shows a certain desperation on your part – an ad hominem.

            “attitudes in the west towards biotechnology definetely [sic] influence how such technology is perceived and implemented in places like Africa.”

            And that, apparently, is the impetus for your motivation to try to convince me of something other than what I believe. And those attitudes in the west which you’ve mentioned, are directly influenced by the marketing practices of companies like those of CropLife. You’re trying to turn any wariness that African farmers have about letting in companies like Monsanto, into a problem, and one caused by critics in the US and Europe. You haven’t provided any evidence though.

            “The very least we in the west can do is support their agency rather than undermining it as you would have us do.”

            I’m not required to support your beliefs, and if expressing my opinion is “undermining the agency of Ugandans”, you haven’t shown me how. What if I said you’re implementing your own agenda in Uganda? That makes about as much sense.

            You’re evidently far more committed to biotechnology than I am to arguing with you about it. And you don’t want to consider that it might not be the best solution for every problem. Is it wrong to question whether a hugely wealthy foundation like Gates is making good choices about how its money is spent? Money that at least partially came from customers of a company found guilty of monopolization? And from a foundation that apparently has owned up to 500K shares of Monsanto? and shares of Cargill? And also has stock in all those producers which profit from those companies’ products: Coca cola, McDonald’s etc. – the major buyers of GMO products?

            That’s what the current GMO industry is about: maximizing profit off the food industry. So, certainly I can be forgiven for my skepticism about a new GMO funded by this foundation for placement in a country where it’s probably pretty easy to sell the idea of a new disease-resistant Vit A and “free” banana to the groups which make those decisions.

            And of course, good can come from bad. It’s wrong to criticize the apparent motive here, and wrong to criticize a food stuff which might help improve the nutritional status of that community. But is it wrong to criticize the probable motives of those who’ve influenced this investment? Wrong to criticize how the money is used? Is it wrong to question these things in a free society? Do we have to accept whatever corporations tell us if they add “it’s for the sake of humanity”? The industry very much wants a GMO to point to of which it can say: those who criticize our products, when the same products have saved lives, are monsters – they are anti-science, anti-technology, anti-progress, anti-poor, blah blah blah etc.

            You believe that other solutions aren’t viable because you say Ugandans don’t want to eat foods other than what they’re eating – which is a lot of bananas. You’re forcing what I’m saying to try to mean something that it doesn’t. Your rhetoric has become repetitive. I accept that you don’t agree with my skepticism. But you don’t seem to be able to accept that I don’t agree with your uncritical acceptance of biotechnology products and the industry’s goals.

            You said: “I’m basing my belief that dietary diversification doesn’t work based on the testimony of Ugandan researchers and the fact that VAD isn’t a new problem. Don’t you think if the answer were as simple as “grow different crops”, that Ugandans would have made a dent in alleviating it? Yet they haven’t. I could list you 50 foods, but if Ugandans don’t want to grow them and they don’t want to eat it them then it’s not a workable strategy.”

            Do you have something to support this logic? There are many reasons why plans to diversify the Ugandan diet haven’t been implemented. Once again, suggesting that those who are suffering from blindness and death won’t eat different foods to alleviate the problem is absurd. As in other countries and our own, the public doesn’t necessarily have control over what foods are available in their markets. Why do we have hungry malnourished children in the US? Why is there lead in Flint water? These are economic and political issues – and they are strongly influenced by the counter-motives of corporations and the individuals who profit from them. And while a golden banana may help Ugandans, I remain critical of the motivation for approaching this particular problem in this particular way.

            Regarding all these issues: the value of the investment, the effectiveness and safety of the tool, and the ultimate goals of those who helped to direct the choice of approach, we must wait and see.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            I have to be repetitive because you keep insisting, without any evidence, that the motivation for the banana 21 project is some nefarious PR ploy on the part of the biotech industry.

            Continued opposition to biotechnology based in ideology rather than evidence of harm or wrong doing is regressive and it is an abuse of first world privilege. Whether or not that makes you reconsider your behavior and attitude is entirely on you. As you said we live in a free country and unfortunately that means you’re free to be wrong.

            You have this whole make believe narrative where you’ve inverted who actually wants this banana and who’s pushing for it. The gates foundation is simply providing the money, the will is coming from the Ugandans and the capacity building is coming from QUT.

            And the Gates foundation is a private charity, what they spend their money on is their prerogative and what they invest in inorder to continue to generate money is also their prerogative. Don’t like that? Well that’s really too bad. Don’t buy Microsoft i guess. Or better yet champion your own cause and spend your own own money. I will not tolerate foolishness of activists who presume to dictate how others should direct spending towards supporting humanitarian projects simply because you have a sophomoric opposition to “corporations”.

            It’s Ugandan Ag scientists and NARO who want to improve their local banana cultivars using biotechnology. You voicing your opposition to such and trying to push the “GMO Trojan horse” narrative is absolutely and unequivocally undermining the sovereignty and agency of Ugandans. My agenda in Uganda would be to allow Ugandans access to whatever technologies they see fit to address their agricultural and nutritional issues.

            And again to be repetitive, given that the banana 21 project is a partnership between public research organizations, your baseless suppositions about ulterior corporate motives are unwarrented and counterproductive. Your argument rests on playing six degrees of separation to tie this humanitarian effort back to the biotech industry. Because God forbid that a humanitarian not for profit use of biotechnology come to pass, that will weaken the activist narrative by decoupling criticisms of corporations from criticisms of the technology, something you have failed to do throughout this entire conversation.

            And don’t confuse me engaging with you for proselytizing. Given all your goal post shifting and outright fabrication of claims regarding biopiracy and secret commercialization attempts, I hold out no hope that you will correct your errors in judgement, you’re too invested against biotechnology and “corporations” for that. But I do think it’s useful to lay them out in plain sight.

          • agscienceliterate

            Dominick, I have found that when the anti-GE activists can’t make their vitriolic arguments against biotech based on science, and when they realize that quoting the likes of Benbrook, Seralini, Oz, Mercola, and that crowd are no longer getting them the anti-GE cred that they seek, they resort to anti-government, anti-corporate, anti-nonprofit organization, anti-profit [cool how they can do both, right? Be both anti-profit and anti-nonprofit at the same time?], and pro-conspiracy rants. That, plus shill accusations, indicate scraping the bottom of the scum barrel, both scientifically and ethically.

            I am constantly curious why these anti-GE activists are so fervent in their evangelism. It is not enough that they want to avoid GE food, for which I support them in their choice, no matter how uninformed, and to just eat organic or non-GMO certified. They feel compelled to slam the lid on the opportunities and market demand of the rest of us, for their evangelism to give them any peace. The preacher thing. It feels so much like knee-jerk religious fervor to me.

            I have suggested to Mlema that s/he contact the Ugandan government directly with his/her arrogant ideas and suggestions. Let him/her do the American imperialist know-it-all thing and see how that works out.

          • Mlema

            Coward.

          • Rickinreallife

            Thank you for your thoughtful, patient, and thorough discussion. I am also impressed that your arguments are well-informed as well as respecting and appealing to the intellect in your exchanges with other commenters. I especially appreciate your point that our Western paternalism toward Uganda is not noble but an insult to that country.

          • Mlema

            First of all, you’re still insisting upon mischaracterizing my criticism. I never said anything that could be characterized as “nefarious” – but you keep using that word. I described what I believed and characterized it as ‘business as usual’ by multi-national biotech corporations. And that is well-documented by sources like wikileaks, or even by careful examination of the legal history of companies like Monsanto.

            Second, I’m not opposed to biotechnology. You’re again trying to paint me as an ideologue and implying that I’m “abusing my first world privilege”. This is another ploy used by the industry to try to paint critics as anti-poor (as I’ve already explained, but you continue to do it) You’re actually trying to bully me into backing off of my skepticism. So, although you imply that you support free dialogue, you really don’t.

            Of course it’s the Gates Foundation’s prerogative to invest as it sees fit, and to spend its money as it sees fit. As it is my prerogative to criticize both. Don’t like that? Well, that’s really too bad. Not only do I see my criticism as my prerogative, but I see it as my duty as a global citizen. Your tantrum about ‘champion your own cause” just sounds like something motivated by anger, because you must know that it’s ridiculous to think I could amass the millions and billions I’d need to champion such a cause. I will continue to support those organizations that are making practical and sustainable changes with those who are affected by those changes – and especially where money from global corporations is given in a hands-off manner.

            At least you’ve acknowledged that your motivation does include the goal of weakening opposition to commercial biotech products by “decoupling criticisms of corporations from criticism of the technology” – and that’s pretty much my most basic assertion about this banana. Because the elephant in the room is this: you and I are having this argument in the context of a comment section on an article about the banana appearing on THE GENETIC LITERACY PROJECT – which has as its unwritten but undeniable and verifiable goal: promotion of the biotech industry.

          • agscienceliterate

            What you believe is entirely irrelevant. What the Ugandans wish for their own people is not your business.

          • Mlema

            You’ve suggested, more than once, that I contact Uganda about this issue. Now you’re telling me it’s none of my business. I wish you’d make up your mind!

          • agscienceliterate

            It is none of your business what Ugandans choose to do. Nonetheless, the world is full of busybodies and arrogant know it all imperialists who believe their first world ideals supersede Third World selfgovernance. You decide which category you wish to be in.

          • Mlema

            But YOU are advocating for the imperial position, and I am advocating for non-interference. So which action do you now want me to take? Shall I interfere, like you? Or should I refrain from interfering (as is my general position and the reason I’m skeptical of the influence and motives that the biotech industry has with regards to this product)?

          • agscienceliterate

            You are interfering with their choices. Bug off.

          • Mlema

            Well, at least you’re not vacillating anymore. But, since I’m not doing anything to which the directive “bug off” would apply, it’s meaningless.

          • Mlema

            “These are Ugandans who are looking for biotech solutions to their
            agricultural issues facing banana whether it’s biofortification or
            disease resistance.”

            No, this is Bill Gates deciding that it’s really cool to engineer stuff, and it’s academics hopping on the money and having to meet the goal of “humanitarianism” to get the $. Using the money to isolate a gene that will allow them to collect royalties off foods sold in wealthier countries. And getting the door open in the third world for biotech products.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            I’m sorry you subscribe to conspiracy but that’s a wholly unsupported supposition.

            The banana 21 project is a collaborative effort between public agriculture research institutions in Uganda and Australia to improve the East African Highland Banana through biofortification and disease resistence. There is no grand plot, except in the minds of those wishing to see it. You’re tilting at windmills here on account of an ideological disposition against biotechnology.

          • Mlema

            As I said, unless a deeper conversation can be had regarding how the Gate’s Foundation invests and makes its decisions, this comes off as paranoia. As to whether or not I’m correct about ultimate goals, we’ll have to wait and see. But the gene was isolated from bananas that didn’t belong to Australia. At best this is a waste of money. At worse it’s exploitation.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            Im almost certain it comes off as paranoia regardless of how deep down the rabbit hole we would go, but I won’t press you on that.

            even if it is a waste of money, which it hasn’t been shown to be yet, it’s not your money that was being wasted.

            Exploitation? That’s a bit hyperbolic.

          • Mlema

            Is there something here for me to respond to?

          • Dominick Dickerson

            Nope I’m making observations concerning the hyperbolic and conspiratorial allegations in you’re prior comment.

            We were doing so well for a while until you started to tred into the Bill Gates/NWO/Big Ag conspiracy stuff.

            You seemed pretty reasonable at first, but as the conversation progressed it become more and more clear that rather than having a sober discussion of the merits and limitations of biofortification of banana you were winding up for something altogether different. The goal of improving sustainability in agriculture and improving human livelihoods is going to require an all hands in deck approach. That’s the message from global intergovernmental agencies, NGO’s, governments. Its what the Ugandan researchers believe and it’s what I know to be true. In contrast you demonstrated that you’re operating from a paradigm of anything but biotech, where you would rather oppose a technology that holds great benefits because of some petty ideological aversion.

            Biotech particularly recombinant DNA technologies and gene editing will not have all the answers but it irks me that yould be so casually dismissive of one of the most impactful human discoveries in our whole history. And in this instance with biofortification its shows real promise to helping deliver a stable staple source of beta carotene to a wide range of people throughout Uganda and eventually the whole tropics.

          • Mlema

            I hate it when things turn personal. You’re making some mistakes about me and I can only assume it’s because of the limiting nature of this forum. I absolutely support biotechnology and in fact wouldn’t want to live in a world without it. But you seem to be pushing this into that arena, when my complaints have little to do with the technology in this instance, and more to do with how it’s being developed and utilized in the case of this banana.

            I do have some concerns over fortifying a staple food that Ugandans apparently eat a lot of every day. It’s one thing to have some students in Iowa eat some bananas, it’s another to fundamentally change a major component of someone’s diet without intense scrutiny, oversight and transparency. I think metabolic analysis of this new plant should be made available for review side by side with the plant that’s being eaten now.

            This is at least the second time you’ve brought up conspiracy. What conspiracy you claiming I’m alleging? I had to look up NWO :) I would appreciate some clarification.

            I think we have actually discussed the merits and limitations of the new banana. And here’s what I see: you believe that it’s a good way for Ugandans, who you believe will not eat sweet potatoes and can’t utilize other regional Vit A resources (for what reason you haven’t explained) to get more Vit A.

            As far as an all-hands on deck approach to hunger and malnutrition, over 400 scientists have done that analysis – and their assessment leaves GMOs as a bit of a question mark. What is more clear is that, in Africa (for instance) an ago-ecological approach is more sustainable. And throughout the world, the preservation of biodiversity is important (as illustrated in the story about Lois Englberger that I linked to)
            http://www.promusa.org/Lois+Englberger

            I hate to mirror your terms, but I think that you yourself are operating from an ideological viewpoint – the techno-fix ideology, where anything that’s new and involves cutting edge technology is best. This is a passive belief system too – complicated problems will be solved by someone somewhere who will come up with a great technological solution. Vit A lack? Instead of doing the hard work to address economic injustices and researching the simplest and most reliable solution, we spend millions to engineer a banana from another banana.

            “That’s the message from global intergovernmental agencies, NGO’s,
            governments. Its what the Ugandan researchers believe and it’s what I
            know to be true.”

            I admire your confidence.

            “Biotech particularly recombinant DNA technologies and gene editing will
            not have all the answers but it irks me that yould be so casually
            dismissive of one of the most impactful human discoveries in our whole
            history.”

            You’re conflating the technology with its application. I’m not dismissing anything. I personally think it’s dangerous to take something that’s simply a tool and put it on an altar. Just because it’s a profoundly powerful technology doesn’t mean that an engineered banana can’t be wrong.

            Look, I’m sorry I rained on your parade. It will be great if this works out as a way to improve the nutrition in the region. As far as the rest of the tropics, I still think it would be better to develop already existing sources. It’s is the most biodiverse region of the world. Everything its residents need for health is already there. But, as shown by the story of Lois Englberger, it can be lost.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            Biotechnology, preserving biodiversity and agroecology are not mutually exclusive concepts. Claiming agroecology is more sustainable is just naivety on you’re part in service to some ulterior ideology.

            And what 400 scientist supported document are you talking about, you’re not referencing that supposed UN document that really wasn’t a UN document are you?

            I’m operating from a viewpoint where we don’t dismiss technology based solutions in plant breeding and agriculture based the belief that sociocultural solutions are preferable. If you or others want to “address economic injustices etc” I applaud those efforts and would encourage you to pursue the . Meanwhile let the plant breeders address it in their way. The only person making claims its either one or the other is you. You, Greenpeace and whoever else can pursue your plans for addressing these problems and the gates foundation,CGIAR and public plant breeding programs can pursue their plans.

            The problem is the social reformers would rather waste their money , time and energy critiquing the tech solution, protesting and delaying research instead of implementing their own solutions in parallel to the tech solution. And I dont just mean you with these comments. The group protesting and attempting to shut down this research are the most deplorable sort of person: well fed, privileged westerners who think it’s brilliant social commentary to dress up in cheap banana costumes and try to stop research for solutions to malnutrition.

          • Mlema

            The document I’m referring to is the IAASTD report.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v26/n3/full/nbt0308-247.html

            You mean the one referenced in this editorial from Nature?

            http://www.agbioforum.org/v15n1/v15n1a09-edwards.htm

            And the same one referenced here.

            It’s quite enlightening to see how the sausage was made in reference to the IAASTD report.

          • Mlema

            What you just did there is really illustrative. I refer to a report put together by hundreds of scientists – addressing everything having to do with science, technology and agriculture, and overseen by the same gentleman who chaired the IPCC for a number of years – and you link to a couple of pro-industry editorials that piss and moan about biotech not being featured heavily enough. ARe you a climate change denier too?

          • Dominick Dickerson

            What about these two articles discussing the defunct IAASTD would give you that impression?

            Edit: no I don’t deny the reality of anthropogenic climate change. Similarly I don’t deny the overwhelming scientific consensus of GE technologies and biotech.

            You link to a report that has an expressly anti-biotech slant to it because of political infighting. The IAASTD started as a noble effort but devolved into antibiotech propaganda.

          • Mlema

            Now who’s naive?

            Edit:
            A lot of pro-industry pundits didn’t like the report. Hey, science can’t always be the way your personal interests would like it to be.

            There’s no “anti-biotech slant” to the report. Read it.
            http://www.unep.org/dewa/agassessment/reports/IAASTD/EN/Agriculture%20at%20a%20Crossroads_Global%20Report%20%28English%29.pdf
            Tell me how there’s an anti-biotech slant. If you’re unhappy because these scientists didn’t determine that GMOs were going to “feed the world”, well, that’s like the oil companies crying because the scientists say “we can’t sustain our carbon emissions without serious global consequences”

            “defunct”? It was assembled to do its work. Why the adjective “defunct”?

            “…an expressly anti-biotech slant to it because of political infighting. The IAASTD started as a noble effort but devolved into antibiotech propaganda.”

            How was it “anti-biotech propaganda”? What political infighting?

          • Guest

            …which is so much worse than Africans growing chrysanthemums to provide pyrethrum for well-off First-World organic consumers, instead of growing food for themselves; and worse than organic growers in Africa preventing pesticide applications to control disease vectors, so that they don’t lose their precious certification & can charge more….

          • Mlema

            It’s a pretty effed up world, eh?

        • Good4U

          I love your “make no mistake” rhetoric, when you continue to make mistakes with every post. Others point out those mistakes, then you just go on and make more and more mistakes. Has it ever occurred to you that you should get off your butt, buy a ticket, and go to Uganda to find out for yourself why they need & want these bananas? You never will learn anything by flailing away at a keyboard while surrounded by all the comforts of home. In your present state of ignorant bliss you have no basis for posting anything. Get out, & don’t come back until you have gained some real world experience.

          • Mlema

            Oh ouch!

    • Warren Lauzon

      Because those bananas are almost totally unfit even for animal fodder, much less human consumption.

      • Mlema

        What makes you think that?

        • Warren Lauzon

          Because I have been to some of those regions, and have seen them. Some are used for erosion control, but about the only thing that actually seems to eat them are some bugs and monkeys occasionally.

          • Mlema

            The banana from which the beta-carotene enhancement was garnered is a sweet red banana cultivated in Papua New Guinea and eaten there and elsewhere – cooked and raw.

    • agscienceliterate

      You should spread your superior wisdom to the Ugandans, and tell them what to do. I’m sure we can find an email or two so you can send your totally irrelevant opinions to people in another country.

      • Mlema

        How are your opinions more relevant than mine?

        • agscienceliterate

          My opinions are based on reviewed science. I have no idea what your opinions are based on. Nor do I care, to be honest. If you deem my opinions more relevant than yours, thank you for that vote of confidence. If you think your opinions are more important, then I suggest you contact the Ugandan government with your largess. I am really not concerned about your opinions.

          • Mlema

            Apparently you are!

          • agscienceliterate

            Not concerned about your shallow and immature opinions, but am observing that they appear to be based on firmly held beliefs based on pseudoscientific nonsense. An observation. Don’t care about them.
            Again, if you believe you have better answers to the Ugandan food problem, by all means, share your insights and opinions directly with the Ugandan people and government. Let’s see how that works out for ya.

          • Mlema

            LOL! Weren’t you going to get me the contact info?

          • agscienceliterate

            Oh, I think you might possibly be capable of actually looking that up yourself.

          • Mlema

            I knew you loved me for my mind.

  • Eric Bjerregaard

    Thanks for the information. If the bananas are dwarf. I would love to get a sucker.

  • Rickinreallife

    Why all of our superior western noblesse oblige paternallism. Why can’t Iowans or anyone else in the U.S. trust Ugandans to make decisions for themselves, to make rational , informed choices regarding the use of advanced genetic techniq9ues to address a nutritional deficiency. I suspect Uganda would be far better off if both Greenpeace and GLP would get out of their road.

  • Stuart M.

    The behavior of the well-fed students must be compared to “food imperialism” or “food colonialism.” They are going to tell the Africans what they can and can’t eat. Hunger in Africa used to launch a thousand ships and provoke countless rock concerts in the West. Now it has come to the so-called “progressives” all marching lockstep in their rejection of a possible solution to African hunger and malnutrition. “No bananas? Let them eat cake!”

  • Mlema

    Why is Bill Gates determining global agricultural policies?
    http://www.pambazuka.net/en/category.php/comment/65080

    • agscienceliterate

      You have a problem with wealthy people contributing some of their wealth to world hunger problems?

      • Mlema

        No. Why would you think that I did? I’d love to see the wealthy nations providing ag tech to Africa. And that costs money. I’d love to see wealthy people donating to Helen Keller international – which has saved untold numbers from blindness. Imagine how much good we could do under the guidance of the consensus of the 400+scientists who authored the IAASTD’s report. How come you support consensus around climate change, but not around feeding the world?

        The connection you need to make is between GMO and world hunger problems.

        • agscienceliterate

          You’ve got it backwards once again. World hunger issues are addressed through GE crops, not made worse through GE crops. Thank goodness for people like Bill Gates and others who will invest in this technology to feed other people. Go do your thing for the blind. But you’re mistaken on the GE issue. It’s the other way around, entirely.

          • Mlema

            OK. But that’s not what the scientists say.

          • Good4U

            As ‘agscienceliterate’ stated, you’ve got it backwards once again. Yes, the scientists do say that GE crops are being effectively used to address world hunger issues. It’s the non-science wackos that are saying the opposite. I believe in the former. Get it now?

          • Mlema

            Yes, your belief systems aren’t scientific.

          • Good4U

            Weird. Just plain weird how I support science and you don’t, yet you spin around on your computer keyboard with some sort of backwards rhetoric that you hope makes sense to somebody out there. You must suffer from mental whiplash.

          • Mlema

            hahaha! Funny image. But just saying you support science doesn’t really explain much. I support science too. And yet, we’ve come to different conclusions about the most scientifically valid way to address this issue.

          • Guest

            I may have missed this, but what does “that’s not what the scientists say” refers to?

          • Guest

            Never mind, figured it out, it’s the document that had input from the “scientists” at Greenpeace, PANNA, and Center for Food Safety.

          • Mlema

            No, it was the IAASTD report – chaired by the same gentleman who oversaw the IPCC for some years. Why do those who accept the science on climate change deny the advice of scientists on the subject of global agricultural technology?

            The point is, the industry rhetoric goes something like this: “we need GMOs to feed the world”. But there’s actually no evidence of that. And in fact, unless GMOs come to mean something very different, they actually don’t play a large role in what scientists are saying we need to do to “feed the world”.

          • Guest

            I don’t hold a different stance as you seem to suggest. After reviewing the content of the report and reading over the list of reviewers, many of whom are not scientists and who have a stake and/or vested financial interest in demonizing GE technology, I am understanding Dominic Dickersons’ position on this document.

          • Mlema

            You didn’t read the report.

          • Guest

            Wrong.

          • Mlema

            Give an example of how it demonizes GE technology, or takes a negative viewpoint, or even a bias against GE technology.

          • Guest

            “Resulting transgenic crops, forestry products, livestock and fish have potentially favorable qualities such as pest and disease resistance, however with possible risks to biodiversity and human health.” Nice unsubstantiated fear-mongering, but hey, it’s only an assessment, right?

          • Mlema

            Can you please tell me what page this is on? TY

            Edit: and why do you see this as a negative viewpoint of bias against GE technology?

          • Mlema

            You’ll have to go back and read it. I’m starting to forget myself, since it was a week ago.

  • Adam
  • Adam

    the protest was due to the fact a beta carotene rich banana exists! The ‘wild’ banana they STOLE genes from was developed in Papua New Guinea (biopiraqcy) As often the case GM interests / business interests are profit. They can profit by making a GM banana rather than using one that already exists! Plus the feeding trials were for marketing not designed to be of any real use! They also cite the sucess of ‘golden rice’ in their literature…