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2-Plants: 'GM banana needed to fend off pests'



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TITLE:  'GM banana needed to fend off pests'
SOURCE: Philippine News Agency, by Lilybeth G. Ison
        http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/NewsStory.aspx?section=SCIENCE&oid=55024
DATE:   12 Jul 2004 

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'GM banana needed to fend off pests'

Banana is a major staple for more than 400 million people in developing
nations, including the Philippines.

However, black sigatoka, a banana fungus that has spread around the world
since the 1960s, is a very serious and potentially devastating threat to
this fruit. Other dangers come from a soil fungus known as Panama disease
and weevil borers that burrow into the stalks.

There is danger that many banana varieties may one day become extinct if
no genetic fix is done to this problem.

Bananas are rich in vitamins, potassium, magnesium and fiber, making them
an important crop, especially in developing countries, and the most
profitable export fruit in the world.

About 90 million metric tons (MT) of bananas are consumed annually in
Honduras, Cuba, Uganda, Ethiopia and the Philippines.

Many banana varieties have already vanished over the years. Growers
currently manage pests by the use of chemicals, spraying this crop more
than any other.

US plant pathologist Emile Frison said he is developing a genetic fix
that will enable bananas to defend themselves from these threats, and
ensure that the banana varieties are available.

His research involves inserting a gene from rice that will work like a
fungicide to fend off the black sigatoka fungus in banana.

So far, Dole, Chiquita and other food companies have no plan to introduce
genetically modified (GM) bananas.

However, Frison said if GM bananas are not accepted they will be forced
to grow less-productive foods that degrade the soil and yield less.

On the other hand, environmentalists and lovers of the organic food
oppose GM foods as unnatural, often less tasty than the original and
possibly dangerous.

Most Americans, however, don't seem too upset about eating bioengineered
corn flakes and tortillas. Last year in the United States, GM soybeans
accounted for more than 50 percent of total yields; GM corn accounted for
almost 40 percent.

In Europe the opposition is more potent. Polls show that only one in four
Europeans favors GM foods. But this same poll says that Europeans, by a
slim majority, support research into genetically modifying humans. This
situation is almost the exact reverse of how Americans feel.

Frison said he has little patience with those opposed to all GMO foods,
saying that the fears are not supported by the science. "They don't want
to hear anything that does not agree with their position. It's annoying,"
he said.The truth, Frison noted, lies somewhere in the middle, with a
spectrum between GMO foods that are safe and those that are not.

Dangers include GMO plants that unintentionally turn toxic and hurt or
kill other plants, animals or humans or that cause horrible allergies.
Another fear is that rogue genes will be accidentally transferred into a
complicated ecosystem to incite unintended havoc.

On the safe end of the spectrum, ample evidence exists that some genetic
modifications are okay.

Frison believes that the animosity toward GMO foods comes less from
science and safety than from a decade of insensitivity by highly
profitable global food giants that "without a genetic fix, the banana may
be history," he said.




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