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Can only genetic modifications save the banana?

Can only genetic modifications save the banana?


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By GM Watch

Stories that genetic engineering is the only way to save bananas follow a classic pattern. What drives them to create these stories to scare people is obviously the need to overcome the rejection of GM bananas in the market.


"Only genetic modifications can save bananas" is the message behind a story that appeared in 2001, reappeared in 2003 and has continued to appear in the press ever since. History claims that since bananas are sterile, they cannot reproduce to prevent disease caused by viruses and could therefore become extinct within a decade.

According to this story, “the standard variety, the Cavendish, is being attacked by Black Sigatoka. Black Sigatoka is a new variety of the fungus that causes Panama disease and that could eliminate the plant within a decade ”.

They tell us that the banana industry is "doomed" (1). There will be no more fresh bananas. No more banana bread. No more banana cakes or desserts with banana cream ”(2). In addition, bananas are an important source of nutrition for many populations in developing countries. "500 million people in Africa and Asia depend on bananas as they constitute more than half of their daily calorie intake," says the report (3). "Genetic engineering could be their only way out" (4): "Scientists say that creating a genetically modified banana that can resist these diseases would be the only way to preserve this fruit for the future" (5).

Every time this story reappears and steals the headlines, experts disprove it ... until it reappears. The interesting thing is that it is almost always the same scientist who appears as the defender of this story: Dr. Emile Frison. Here are some of the headlines Dr. Frison has contributed to:

"Without a genetic repair, bananas could go down in history"

"Bananas could become extinct without genetic modification"

"Old bananas will be extinct in ten years"

"Yes, it is true we will not have more bananas"

"Helpless bananas will be extinct in ten years"

"Genetically modified bananas are necessary to defend against pests"

"Bananas wiped out by 2013"

"Bananas on the edge of the abyss of extinction"

"Goodbye to bananas"

"Bananas: a fruit in danger"

"Bananas R.I.P"

But the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has directly contradicted Dr. Frison's arguments that bananas are in danger of extinction. FAO accepts that there are problems of vulnerability to diseases, but adds that this problem has been exacerbated by the large-scale commercial use of the Cavendish variety and that it could be counteracted by promoting greater genetic diversity.


The FAO further notes that small farmers around the world grow a wide variety of banana species that are not attacked like the Cavendish variety. In reality, there are hundreds of different species of bananas and only about ten percent of the bananas produced and consumed globally are Cavendish (6).

Other scientists have also ruled out that bananas are in danger of extinction. Thai scientist Benchamas Silayoi from Kastsart University's Faculty of Agriculture has stated that it is simply not possible for bananas to disappear so quickly. She points out that there is a world collection of banana germplasm at the Catholic University in Leuven-Belgium, which contains more than 1,100 accessions, precisely for the purpose of conserving the genetic diversity of the species. Additionally, there is an Asian collection in the Philippines, and Thailand also has its own collection in the banana tissue culture laboratory of Kasetsart University. According to Benchamas, pests and diseases could not extinguish the banana in such a short period of time. "Only gigantic atomic bombs could do it" (7).

Plant pathologist Dr. David Jones - a banana specialist - has contradicted claims that genetic engineering would be the only option to improve sterile varieties of bananas. He points out that even though sterile bananas don't reproduce as well or simply don't reproduce, they can be induced to produce seeds if they are pollinated manually. The Honduran Foundation for Agricultural Research (FHIA) has developed the most successful conventional breeding program known to date. It has bred disease resistant bananas that are now widely grown in Cuba (where they previously had severe disease problems). A variety called Goldfinger is also grown in Australia, and others are being tested in Africa and elsewhere. Conventional breeding can be positive, especially when it comes to bananas grown in developing countries (8). A Honduran study has shown that a few Cavendish plants can produce viable seeds despite their supposed sterility problem.

FHIA researchers say these fruits - which have been shown to be non-sterile - form the basis of a series of promising hybrids that could reproduce to resist disease caused by the fungus (8). David Jones states that there is the possibility of “reproducing a banana, with a commercially acceptable export quality and that is resistant to the disease, using the fertile variety -Gros Michel- a dwarf banana that was previously exported and was used for desserts. ”.

Likewise, some biotechnologies less controversial than genetic engineering have been used with apparent success, such as propagation through the culture tissue to reduce the risk of proliferation of banana diseases. According to banana expert Dan Koeppel: “Most banana researchers agree that the real answer to the problem (as has been found with other crops such as potatoes, apples and grapes) is to abandon monocultures as they are the culprits that the disease is so devastating. A more diverse banana crop would allow farmers to isolate susceptible bananas and surround them with more resistant varieties ”(9).

Stories that genetic engineering is the only way to save bananas follow a classic pattern. Its aim is to blackmail consumers and farmers who are reluctant to believe that genetically modified bananas are the only solution to a problem that is actually much more complex than is recognized and that has proven to have other effective solutions. What drives them to create these stories to scare people is obviously the need to overcome the rejection of GM bananas in the market.

It is important to note that the genetically modified crops developed so far have allowed corporations to exercise greater control over agriculture, which is least needed by small farmers, since they often have to compete with very powerful multinational corporations. Furthermore, according to FAO, the greatest threat that bananas currently face is genetic uniformity and genetic engineering that opposes genetic diversity and therefore strengthens uniformity.

Interestingly, Dr. Emile Frison, the scientist who has done so much to promote genetically modified bananas is the director of Bioversity International (BI). BI was assembled to use genetic resources to counteract the rapid loss of crop biodiversity.

Although this organization is funded mostly through public funds, among the top 20 donors on its list (featured in its 2008 annual report) is the Global Crop Diversity Fund. Among the founders of this fund are the large genetic modification corporations, DuPont and Syngenta. There are also other organizations that defend genetic modification, such as USAID (10).

GM Watch - Submitted by Red For a GMO-Free Latin America - RALLT -

Original in English: http://www.gmwatch.eu/gm-myths/11244-qonly-gm-can-save-the-bananaq

Notes:

[1] Mark Henderson, "Bananas‘ will slip into extinction without GM ’", The Times, 16 January 2003

[2] Robert Alison, "Yes, we’ll have no bananas", Globe & Mail (Canada), July 19, 2003

[3] Robert Uhlig, "Defenseless banana 'will be extinct in 10 years", Daily Telegraph, 16 January 2003

[4] Robert Uhlig, "Defenseless banana 'will be extinct in 10 years", Daily Telegraph, 16 January 2003

[5] Mark Henderson, "Bananas‘ will slip into extinction without GM ’", The Times, 16 January

[6] "Bananas not on verge of extinction, says FAO", UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Rome, Italy, 30 January 2003; "UN food agency says bananas not threatened", Agence France Presse, January 30 2003

[7] "Bananas‘ can’t disappear by 2013 ’", The Nation, January 30 2003

[8] David Jones, "Bananas about GM", New Scientist, August 4 2001, Letters

[9] Dan Koeppel, "The Beginning of the End for Bananas?", The Scientist, July 22 2011

[10] "Biodiversity International", SpinProfiles, accessed June 30 2009


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