Environmental activists are asking biotechnologists to not go bananas over the genetically modified variety of the fruit.

Mahila Anna Swaraj, Initiative for Health & Equity in Society, Guild of Services, CISSA, Azadi Bachao Andolan, Appiko, Save Honey Bees Campaign and Navdanya are urging the government to scrap the recently inked memorandum of association between the Indian Department of Biotechnology and University of Queensland, Australia, to conduct research and field trials over the next 4-5 years and launch GM bananas within 6 to 10 years in India.

“India is the biggest producer and consumer of bananas (30 million metric tonnes) followed by Uganda (12 million mt). Together, India and Uganda form 40-50 per cent of the global banana market. Besides, there are more than 200 varieties of bananas preserved in the National Banana Research Centre,” said an environmentalist.

Dr Dale of Queensland University is being funded by Bill Gates with $ 15 million to develop GMO bananas to “save Indian women from childbirth death due to iron deficiency.”

It is estimates that two billion people worldwide are iron deficient, including one billion people who have iron deficiency anaemia. In India, 75 per cent of children below five years of age and 60 per cent of young women suffer from anaemia. Iron deficiency in pregnant women is a major cause of maternal mortality and childbirth deaths.

But the exercise to solve this problem by introducing GM bananas to the Indian diet is futile, say the environmentalists, who have written to the Prime Minister to nip it in the bud.

“Bananas are rich in nutrition but iron is not their key strength. In fact, turmeric, niger, lotus stem and amchur have 3000 to 2000 per cent more iron in them than bananas.” They are urging the PM to cancel the project which is just a drain on the resources (India’s Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) is to provide $1.44 million and Rs 80 million to increase iron content in banana through genetic engineering.) In order to address the problem of iron deficiency in mothers and children, the environmentalists suggest that the same money should instead be used to support a national movement of community gardens and kitchen gardens in women’s hands.

There is a danger that GM bananas will be introduced in government programmes like ICDS and midday meals, opening up a billion dollar market to feed the vulnerable.

“Just as Monsanto controls our cotton seed supply through IPRs adding a toxic gene to cotton, Dale and MNCs will start owning our banana through patents linked to genetic engineering. We don’t need wasteful experiments by powerful men in distant places, who are totally ignorant of the biodiversity in our fields and thalis, and who never bear the consequences of their destructive power by creating new threats to our biodiversity, our seed sovereignty, knowledge sovereignty and our health. We need to put food security in women’s hands so that the last woman and the last child can share in nature’s gifts of biodiversity,” says Dr Vandana Shiva of Navdanya.

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