The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Dr Wendy S White, Iowa State University
The Director, Human-Institutional Review Board, Iowa State University
We, the undersigned, representing diverse constituencies from across Africa and the world, working towards food sovereignty, are strongly opposed to the human feeding trials taking place at the Iowa State University involving the so called genetically modified (GM) ‘super banana’ - GM Matooke, Sweet and Roasting bananas.
These trials funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are being carried out under the leadership of Dr. Wendy White of the Iowa State University, on 12 young students, with the intention of introducing the GM banana first in Uganda and later, to other countries in East Africa. The GM banana, currently undergoing field trials in Uganda, was developed by scientists at Queensland University of Technology in Australia, similarly also funded by the Gates Foundation.
Despite claims to the contrary from the promoters and developers of GM crops, and to reiterate what nearly three hundred global scientists have stated in an Open Letter in December 2013[i], there is no consensus that GM crops are safe for human consumption. Most of the research carried out by independent scientists on GM crops directly contradicts the results of biotech industry-sponsored studies that claim no evidence of risk or harm.
This so-called ‘Super-banana’, has been genetically modified to contain extra beta-carotene, a nutrient the human body uses to produce vitamin A. Unlike current GM crops in commercial production where agronomic traits have been altered, scientists have spliced genes into the GM banana to produce substances for humans to digest (extra beta carotene). The GM banana is a whole different ballgame, raising serious concerns about the risks to African communities who would be expected to consume it. Production of vitamin A in the body is complex and not fully understood. This raises important questions including inter alia, whether high levels of beta- carotene or vitamin A may carry risks and what the nature of those risks might be. While a risk assessment is a pre-requisite for GM foods under many national jurisdictions, the need for specific and additional food safety assessment for nutritionally enhanced GM crops such as the GM banana is acknowledged by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, as genetic modifications result in a composition that may be significantly different from their conventional counterparts[ii].
We question what firm conclusions can be drawn from feeding trials of young people residing in the United States for poor rural farmers and consumers in Africa, given all the differences in lifestyle and diets between these two populations?
What other foods will these students be eating with the GM bananas, and how will these be eaten? Will the participants in the USA be eating this in the same way? Will it have the same color and same levels of water composition? Would cooking the GM bananas result in a loss of beta-carotene? Will participants be given portions of fats and oils (such as butter) to supplement the banana, as was the case in feeding trials with Golden Rice to facilitate the absorption of beta-carotene? If so, then the GM banana feeding studies may be of little relevance to rural Ugandans and other East Africans who prepare the Matooke variety simply by steaming and mashing.
Great strides have been made in the Philippines, another target country for Vitamin enhanced GM crops, through government programs that supply supplements and improve access to vitamin A rich foods, to overcome Vitamin A deficiencies. This is done without the enormous costs or unknown long- term impacts on health, the environment and farming systems that are entailed by using GM crops. And it is more completely in control of the user society.
Africa, the USA, and indeed the rest of the world, do not need GM crops. These crops divert resources away from more locally appropriate and controlled 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.
This letter is in solidarity with farmers and communities in Africa and around the world, which have resisted the genetic modification of their staple foods- from Ghana, Kenya and Zambia- to Mexico, India and the Philippines. We will not stand by idly as attempts are made to systematically genetically modify Africa’s staple foods and in the process gain a massive positive public relations coup by claiming to have conquered health problems at the unnecessary risk to Africans.
Finally, we demand that the full contents of this open letter are shared with the human subjects of these trials in the USA.
Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA)
from here with the list of 122 signee organisations