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Scientists Create Genetically Modified Gold Bananas in Attempt to Increase Vitamin A

A genetically-modified combination of a high-yielding banana with one that contains high levels of vitamin A has scientists hoping they can save “hundreds of thousands” of children’s lives with the new banana, Newsweek reports. The resulting fruit has an orange hue due to the vitamin A. Scientists plan field trials of the plant in Uganda, where bananas are a staple food.

It will be interesting to see how these genetically engineered (GE) bananas fare in the field trials, as the other “magic” food solution to vitamin A deficiency, “Golden Rice,” has been a miserable failure. Genetically engineered to produce beta-carotene, Golden Rice was billed as a panacea for vitamin A deficiency in developing countries, but failed to perform in field trials.

It’s true that vitamin A deficiency is a major problem in developing countries. Without adequate dietary beta-carotene, which your body converts into vitamin A, people are at increased risk of infection, blindness and other health problems. It’s believed that up to 2.7 million children's lives could be saved by providing adequate vitamin A, but it turned out Golden Rice only worked on children who didn’t need it — and scientists were forced to admit the real solution is to improve access to real sources of beta-carotene and other nutrients, including animal products like eggs, cheese and meat, and vegetables such as dark leafy greens and sweet potatoes.

Proponents of genetic engineering claim it’s the most effective way to feed the world, by producing plants unnaturally equipped with internally produced insecticides, or with genes making them resistant to chemical herbicides or, in the case of Golden Rice and orange bananas, containing enhanced nutrition. Meanwhile, what people in the developing world actually need to receive ample dietary nutrients like vitamin A is access to a diverse range of nutritious foods, rather than reliance on a single food. This is the type of diet that is attained from biodiverse farming — the opposite of GE crops.
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