NEWS

The ‘banana war’ has begun in earnest

Some scientists are warning that if genetic modifications are not made to the banana tree, these crops will disappear over the next 10 years, but one wonders if that is the real dilemma. According to Mark Henderson, writing in the latest issue of the magazine New Science, edible bananas are particularly vulnerable to parasites and disease and it is almost impossible to develop new varieties and deal with new risks. He says the classic variety, Cavendish, is already threatened by a disease known as Black Sigatoka and by a new type of another fungus, Panama disease, which is likely to wipe out the crop within the next 10 years. These diseases, according to the article, cannot be controlled by chemical fungicides and so bananas will soon be a thing of the past unless science finds radical solutions, that is genetic modification, which by coincidence has just been developed at a UK laboratory. However, the article also puts forward an idea often expressed by scientists opposed to genetically modified (GM) varieties. It claims that as there are no genetic varieties, it is that homogeneity which has made them more vulnerable to disease than any other crop on the planet. Yet the absence of varieties and uniformity is just what genetic modification produces. Perhaps genetic engineering is not only a non-solution but will gradually lead to the development of diseases that we cannot deal with. Dr Vangelis A. Bourbos, an agronomist, phytopathology researcher, eco-toxicologist, and director of the Institute for the Olive and Subtropical Plants, says that in fact there are several varieties of banana, some of which are not sterile, and that the development of resistant diseases has been the result of cultivation methods and the chemicals used. If certain cultivation practices are changed, disease can be defeated without the need for genetic modification.