NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Genetically Modified Food Unappetizing to Africans

December 30, 2002

Although an airborne fungus is threatening to wipe out the entire banana crop in Uganda, officials there are reluctant to use available technologies to stave off famine.

The most promising solution is genetically modified (GM) banana cells that are resistant to the leaf disease caused by the fungus.

Scientists say bananas should be the least worrisome biotech plant of all.

  • Bananas don't produce pollen, eliminating the greatest environmental fear that they would run wild in the open.
  • Because the genetic engineering is in the leaf and stem, it doesn't affect the fruit itself, so nothing would be expected to change for the consumer.
  • And since Ugandans eat or drink all of the bananas they grow, there is no European export market to worry about.

The U.S. government, for its part, is spending about $12 million annually on African biotechnology. It has funded scientists in America and Africa to genetically engineer potatoes and sweet potatoes to resist attack by disease and pest.

However, European Union countries have had a moratorium on new GM crops for four years, and have hinted that imports from their former colonies could be jeopardized if they switched to GM crops.

Meanwhile, Africa is caught in the middle. As one professor of plant breeding and genetics said, "We missed the Green Revolution. We're being fed by Europe, Asia and the U.S. If we miss the GM revolution, then we're finished."

Source: Roger Thurow, Brandon Mitchener, and Scott Kilman, "Amid a Heated U.S.-EU Clash On Biotech, Africa Goes Hungry," The Wall Street Journal, December 26, 2002.

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http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB1040853881524153393,00.html?mod=home%5Fpage%5Fone%5Fus

 

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