Gates Foundation to Pay Students to Eat GMO Bananas For Research

7551205482_3091ccdf8f_b-640x429By Joseph Jankowski

Researchers at Iowa State University are moving forward with a long-delayed project in which a dozen students will be paid to eat genetically modified bananas.

According to The Des Moines Register, the bananas were created by a Australian scientist and contain a gene that is supposed to help people living in Africa make vitamin A.

The project, funded by Bill and Melinda Gates, would pay each student $900.

Food-science professor Wendy White, who is leading the ISU end of the trial, says the project will take place sometime this year after approximately two years of delay.

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From The Des Moines Register:

In the summer of 2014, White’s team sent an email to ISU students seeking a dozen female volunteers for the study. White said that the volunteers would be paid $900 to eat the equivalent of three bananas each. Just one of the bananas would be the genetically modified type.

The participants were to eat a diet, including the bananas, for four days during each of three study periods, then have their blood tested. White said more than 500 women responded to the query, and 12 were to be selected.

White said in 2014 that the goal of her research was to help people in Africa increase their production of vitamin A.

Earlier this week, activists delivered a petition against the project to University officials and to the Seattle headquarters of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. According to the activists more then 57,000 people have signed the petition that warns the trial may be unsafe.

“ISU students are being asked to be the first to consume a product of unknown safety,” the activists said in a prepared statement. “The study is not being conducted in a transparent manner, and concerned ISU community members have not been able to receive answers about the research design, risks, nature of the informed consent given by the subjects and the generalizability of the study.”

According to the researchers the new type of banana includes a gene taken from another banana species, which naturally produces large amounts of beta-carotene.

“In Uganda and other African countries, vitamin A deficiency is a major contributor to deaths in childhood from infectious diseases,” Wendy White  wrote in a statement released by the university in 2014. “Wouldn’t it be great if these bananas could prevent preschool kids from dying from diarrhea, malaria or measles?”

There has been no prior animal testing of the banana, and the study is one of the first ever GMO human feeding trials. There is no telling what kind of adverse health effects may occur from eating the genetically altered fruit.

From The Ecologist:

And the safety concern is not limited to students or activists. Among those concerned at the hazards of the experiment is Dr. David Schubert, a molecular biologist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies:

“Beta carotene is chemically related to compounds that are known to cause birth defects and other problems in humans at extremely low levels, and these toxic chemicals are possible if not likely by-products of plants engineered to make large amounts of beta carotene.

“Since there is no required safety testing of the banana or any other GMO, doing a feeding trial in people, especially women, should not be allowed. It is both unethical and immoral, particularly because there are several naturally occurring varieties of banana that are safe and have higher levels of beta carotene than the GM varieties.”

His comments make the idea of feeding the GM bananas to young women who might be pregnant or become pregnant during the course of the study appear especially unwise.

Activists opposing the project are having difficulty getting their questions answered by ISU officials.

Joseph Jankowski writes for

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