Recently, Australia has made headlines when it was announced that the first harvest of genetically modified (“GM”) bananas, planted in the South Johnstone area, south of Cairns in far north Queensland, show “promise.” The project is spearheaded by Queensland University of Technology, with $5 million grant from the Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. According to Professor James Daly, the head of the project, “[t]he trial was the first of its kind in Australia and probably one of three or four in the world.”
The stated humanitarian purpose of the GM bananas is to improve the nutritional content of bananas, as a way of combating malnutrition in Africa, particularly in Uganda, where bananas are a staple food and very low in nutrients. And according to Professor James Daly, “[t]his first planting is demonstrating that at least one of the combinations of genes we’re putting is working really well for pro vitamin A, and we’re concentrating on that.”
Biotech supporters argue that because cultivated bananas are generally unable to reproduce from seed (i.e., they are grown from offshoots of a parent plant), there is a low-risk for crop contamination by GM varieties. Even if that were true, the argument nonetheless fails to address all the concerns that GMOs inherently bring to the table, some of which include, but are not limited to, untested or under-tested impact on human health (some studies already suggest decline in animal health after being fed GMO diet), superweeds and superbugs, antibiotic resistance, and loss of biodiversity. These and other unanswered questions should be answered before we begin to celebrate GM harvests.