Privileged Students Protest Vitamin A Rich Bananas

Bananas for Africa

As an Iowa State University graduate, I’m often filled with pride when I hear about activities happening on the campus that I called home for four years.  My husband Dave and I graduated from ISU’s Agriculture Department, and I later worked in both the Food Science Department running taste tests on apples and at the Horticulture Farm doing field research.  Both departments feel a little like ‘home’.

Several weeks ago, I heard about a research project ISU scientist Wendy White would be conducting on the GMO ‘super banana’.  Australian researchers, with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, developed this banana to help combat vitamin A deficiency in Africa. An estimated 250,000 to 500,000 vitamin A deficient children become blind every year. Half of them die within 12 months of losing their sight.

Take a moment to imagine a scenario in which 125,000 to 250,000 children died each year in a developed country from a preventable situation.  We have mass outcry when ONE child dies from measles, but for some reason, a quarter of a million children dying in Africa from lack of a vitamin is hardly newsworthy. The newly developed ‘super banana’ will allow those who eat it to produce more vitamin A, preventing these devastating losses. Bananas are a staple food in large parts of Africa and can be grown easily, making them an ideal vehicle for vitamin A delivery.

Dr. White, a leading expert in how the body develops vitamin A, plans to study how well the banana works by feeding it to 12 students, paid $900 each to participate in the trial.  Twenty years ago, while scrounging up couch change to head to the Story City dollar theater, I would have been the first in line to sign up for this study.  The ‘super banana’ is a banana variety that is considered a staple crop in East Africa, but has an inserted gene from a closely related wild banana which allows for increased vitamin A to be delivered to those who need it most.  Three cheers for our alma mater’s participation in something so monumental.

Last week, my pride turned to embarrassment.  No, the red face was not particularly due to the college, but to the caliber of students stepping around the Zodiac in the Memorial Union.  Wait, maybe that’s what went wrong here!  A group of students stepped on the bronze zodiac, flunked science, and came to the brilliant idea that they and their well-fed bellies should protest something that has the potential to save the sight of hundreds of thousands of children.  This is the only possible explanation, as ISU is a leader in education.

A group of well-fed, and perhaps well-paid, students from ISU joined together with AGRA Watch and CREDO Action to protest this study and deliver a petition, conducted by CREDO, to the Gates Foundation.  CREDO Action is the political action portion of a phone company that is very ‘anti-corporation’, but delivers service via Sprint, because, you know, Sprint isn’t a corporation.  CREDO Action enjoys giving financial gifts to Earthjustice, the Organic Consumers Association, and other such groups that will undoubtedly profit from the halting of this important research being conducted at ISU.  The OCA is on the front lines of the anti-transgenic movement, giving money to big corporations that stand to profit from the demise of biotechnology and the promotion of organic products which only the well-fed can afford in the first place.  No irony here at all.

Community Alliance for Global Action delivering petitions to the Gates Foundation in Seattle

Their misguided activism has real costs.  By attempting to delay the trial, these students are denying African children access to lifesaving technology.

“In Uganda and other African countries, vitamin A deficiency is a major contributor to deaths in childhood from infectious diseases,” Dr. White said in a statement, “Wouldn’t it be great if these bananas could prevent preschool kids from dying from diarrhea, malaria or measles?”

Wouldn’t it be great indeed!  I wonder what goes through the minds of this small handful of students protesting a simple banana?  Do they really think they’re saving the world?  Do they not understand that they are condemning another year’s worth of children to blindness and death?  Where is their conscience?  Where is their moral code?  ISU is doing the right thing and going on with the trial.  It’s time for anti-GMO activists with full bellies to stop making food choices for nutrition deprived people around the world.

Banana photo courtesy of Photograph Bug.  Follow her 366 Photography on Instagram HERE.

13 thoughts on “Privileged Students Protest Vitamin A Rich Bananas

  1. Bill and Melinda Gates have plenty of money. They could probably end world hunger entirely if they really wanted to. That’s why I am suspect when they say that the tinkering with nature’s code will help people, and you should suspect that also. When you have the ability to help people in fundamental, unquestionable ways, but don’t, then what is the real motivation?

    Also, the Foundation is being sued in India it seems over some vaccinations, but please by all means continue to hold your belief that the BMG Foundation is “charitable,” despite the mounting evidence contrary.

    I think we live in a world where the reason of “feeding the hungry in (fill in 3rd world country)” should not be used as an excuse for experimentation on humans. Let’s be honest, that’s what it is right? Human experiments on the effects of GM foods without informed consent? I mean, feeding studies on pigs is great and all, but we’re talking about human trials and experiments here, right? It MIGHT help make more Vitamin A, OR it MIGHT make another problem, right? We don’t know and I highly doubt a trial on 12 students for what, a month–90-Days tops?–is going to settle that matter. What about informed consent? Just because people are hungry doesn’t mean they don’t still have rights.

    1. Congrats to the Foundation for persevering in the face of the people that think they know more about the chemistry and relevance of food and feeding the world than the farmers, scientists, and consumers who grow, breed and consume the billions of tons of safe food made available by modern genetics. People in the first world are living longer and larger than ever before in history. There is a global effort to feed the billions of souls on our planet today, with a healthy and safe food supply. Not an easy task. Ask any farmer how he plans to do this. As a farmer, I know we need to do this by growing more on the same acres even as cities consume some of the earth’s best farmland and cover it with monster houses, pavement and concrete. First world consumers could help by reducing the almost 50% food that they waste daily.

  2. The photo you posted is not of ISU students. It is a photo of the Community Alliance for Global Action petition drop at the Gates Foundation in Seattle. Please correct this error.

  3. I don’t think anom comments are worth having a discussion with, IMHO.

    The author wrote a great article on the banana and the Vitamin A protest issue. @Anom and your counterparts cry foul that we don’t do feeding trials, so which is it? You can’t have it both ways.

    The banana issue is a very real threat to world hunger, solutions are need to prevent the devastation of entire food chains that are dependant on the banana supply. Sure, who cares if Costco or Whole foods in California runs out, no big deal but when your diet is based on one starch like rice or banana it’s of critical importance.

    It’s so easy as a privileged citizen who enjoys science, a safe & affordable food supply to demand choices. This is a bigger humanity issue; why should privilege trump common decency and kindness, it should prevent others from enjoying the same safe, affordable food supply we enjoy!

    Safe, nutritious Food is a basic moral right for all humans…Organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation understand you need to solve the entire issue and not just dump a load of grain as that solves nothing in the broader picture.

  4. I agree with this article author completely. There is absolutely no evidence that GMO products are bad for us and yet groups of “high minded” people would prevent starving people from receiving the nutrients they need from all the great research going on. it is time to stand up for science and food security for all. it is a basic human right.

    1. Aloha Callum Faulds. It depends what you mean by biodiversity. If you mean within bananas, having a new banana with a single gene inserted from another banana (cisgenic if I understand correctly), would actually increase biodiversity within the banana family. This would be similar to crossing two tomatoes to come up with a new variety; a tomato with major genetic changes. The banana being worked on by these Australian researchers has just one very targeted gene change. It’s a very precise process.

      If you mean biodiversity in the sense of planting many different crops in a single area of land, then this new banana with a single gene change from a wild banana would have no change on biodiversity. The farmer is either growing bananas or not growing bananas. Increasing biodiversity in this sense would require convincing a farmer to plant something other than banana, their staple crop.

  5. Why don’t you yuppies all argue about a fucking banana …. because you’re so smarter than the rest of us … and while you’re doing that another 100,000 kids die!!! Gawd, Your priorities are F’d up!

  6. Congrats on this excellent commentary on the stupidity of people who oppose any research on vitamin A bananas. I am wondering how the study eventually panned out. What were its findings?

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