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2014-12-19

Open letter: Africa doesn't need genetically modified bananas

Banana Human trials with GM bananas instead of animal tests (Photo: Kit practicalowl/Flickr)

Civil society networks and farmers' organisations have submitted an Open Letter to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Iowa State University expressing fierce opposition to human feeding trials involving genetically modified, beta-carotene-enriched bananas intended for Africa. The letter was published last week by the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), a Pan-African platform working towards food sovereignty. More than 120 organisations from around the world, as well as 26 individual scientists, support the letter, including the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, FoodFirst, La Via Campesina North America, and Dr. Vandana Shiva. They are strongly opposed to the GM banana human trials that are funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and carried out by Iowa State University under the leadership of Dr. Wendy White. The GM bananas are currently given to 12 young students. This so-called ‘super-banana’ was developed by scientists at Queensland University of Technology in Australia with funds from the Gates Foundation. It has been genetically modified to contain extra beta-carotene, a nutrient the human body uses to produce vitamin A. The trials are designed to support the release the GM bananas into Ugandan farming and food systems and later to other East African countries. “As AFSA, we are vehemently opposed to GM crops. Africa and Africans should not be used as justification for promoting the interest of companies and their cohorts. We do not need GM crops in this changing climate. What we need is the diversity in our crops and the knowledge associated with them,” commented AFSA Coordinator Dr. Million Belay. The letter criticises that GM crops divert resources away from more locally appropriate agricultural solutions to nutritional concerns. “If indeed the aim of those involved in the promotion of the project is truly to combat vitamin A deficiency then surely they should be advocating for the consumption of more diverse fruits and foods, such as sweet potatoes that are rich in vitamin A and that are in abundance in Africa. Ironically, the promotion of a GM food staple high in vitamin A risks perpetuating monolithic diets, the very causes of vitamin A deficiency in the first place”, reads the letter. AFSA stressed that progress to overcome vitamin A deficiencies has been made in the Philippines through government programmes that provide supplements and improve access to vitamin A rich foods - without the massive costs or unknown long-term impacts on health, the environment and agriculture linked to GM crops.

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