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January 15, 2003 11:03 PM   Subscribe

Going bananas. The only fruit to ever appear on a Velvet Underground album cover (not to mention the title of a J. D. Salinger short story) may be on its way to extinction. Facts: I) total disappearance could occur within a decade; II) bananas are the staple diet for half a billion people and III) current genetic tampering mean that, even if the fruit doesn't quite disappear, it will taste and look different (Guardian article here). Feeling nostalgic already? Visit the stylish Banana Museum or give someone you love the Enchanted Banana of Happiness (not what you're thinking). first link via Fark
posted by 111 (53 comments total)

 
Do apples still grow in the wild?
posted by PenDevil at 12:13 AM on January 16, 2003


...current genetic tampering mean that, even if the fruit doesn't quite disappear, it will taste and look different

Why do you say that, 111?
posted by shoos at 12:17 AM on January 16, 2003


They can have my bananas when they prise them from my cold, dead, fingers....
posted by salmacis at 12:29 AM on January 16, 2003


Great propoganda for the GM foods cartels. Get everybody scared about the nightmare banana-extinction scenario, then steal the rug right out from under them. It worked for the nucular bum cartel, and it'll work for these bums, too. Next thing you know, we'll be going to work with Santo Domingo (and all the politicians will deny it's for his bananas).
posted by son_of_minya at 12:31 AM on January 16, 2003


One of the best arguments that frequent Creation/Evolution debates is the holy banana.

Note that the banana is

Is shaped for human hand
Has non-slip surface
Has outward indicators of inward content:
Green-too early,
Yellow-just right,
Black-too late.
Has a tab for removal of wrapper
Is perforated on wrapper
Bio-degradable wrapper
Is shaped for human mouth
Has a point at top for ease of entry
Is pleasing to taste buds
Is curved towards the face to make eating process easy

To say that the banana happened by accident is even more unintelligent than to say that no one designed the Coca Cola can.

God giveth, and God taketh away.
posted by Stan Chin at 12:44 AM on January 16, 2003


i hate bananas, their texture is gag making. brazil nuts are a far superior source of potassium - one nut contains the full daily requirement for adults and aborbs into the body quicker and more effeciently.
posted by t r a c y at 12:46 AM on January 16, 2003


My God... "The banana -- the atheist's nightmare." Between that and "These skulls are in the shape of a heart," Metafilter is providing some profound statements tonight. I mean that sincerely. Maybe it's just a symptom of sleep deprivation, but I see wisdom in these words.

As for the "intelligent design" argument, you have to bear in mind, and I know it's easy to forget sometimes, that these rational people with their sophisticated arguments believe in an invisible man in the sky who turns beer green once a year. I've seen this people, walking around with ash smeared all over their forehead, marching in lines with palm leaves in their hands...and then they just sit the palm leaves in a big pile on the sidewalk. *whistle*

Don't mind me, though. Seriously. I just had to jump in with that thought, don't want to derail the whole thread. Pretend the second paragraph does not even exist.
posted by son_of_minya at 1:08 AM on January 16, 2003


tracey : "i hate bananas, their texture is gag making."

It's so hard (sorry) to avoid making deep throat comments... Ahem.

In a different tack, Bananas aren't really fruits. They're sterile 'non fruits' of a herb.
posted by twine42 at 2:24 AM on January 16, 2003


Okay... my job's getting to me... Stan Chin - the entire of this office aggrees that that also makes it perfectly designed as a natural sex toy...
posted by twine42 at 2:26 AM on January 16, 2003


Didn't you hear the song? They have no bananas today... :(
posted by Space Coyote at 3:26 AM on January 16, 2003


This could be the breaktrough that finally makes GM food accepted by the masses.

As to debate wether GM food is good or bad, I would just like to say that I prefeer GM bananas to ones sprayed with massive amounts of fungicide.
posted by spazzm at 4:51 AM on January 16, 2003


First of all, "genetic tampering meanS" of course.
shoos: the Guardian's text doesn't make it clear how bananas will morph/evolve/mutate, but apparently it has something to do with an experiment made in Honduras (very Jurassic Park-like if you ask me). From the article:

One possibility is GM bananas, but growers fear consumer resistance. The big growers are pinning their hopes on better fungicides.
One ray of hope comes from Honduran scientists, who peeled and sieved 400 tonnes of bananas to find 15 seeds for breeding. They have come up with a fungus-resistant variety which could be grown organically. If bananas don't disappear from supermarket shelves by 2013, they will look, and taste, different.


Also from New Scientist (2001 article) via /.:

The banana is to be the first edible fruit to have its genetic code unravelled, a global consortium has announced.
The Global Musa Genomics Consortium will focus on discoveries that will benefit the smallholders who grow 85 per cent of the world's bananas, mostly for their own consumption.
But because interbreeding is impossible, genetic modification is the only way to insert such genes into most commercial varieties. "This is one of the few crops where you could say there's a strong justification for using GM," Frison says.


Hmmm. Next thing you know both Monsanto and Clonaid will get into this whole genetic banana boat thing.
posted by 111 at 5:15 AM on January 16, 2003


Banana lacks genetic diversity...mmhh wonder why ?

Hint: somebody selected the more "marketable" (nice size,shape,color,taste) bananas and didn't care to cultivate the less "nice" ones. "Opps, we didn't read about the genetic thingie in the MBA books, market will solve the problem by breeding just ONE breed of indestructible bananas so good you can use it as a brick ! It also tastes like brick !"

In other news, market found better then Preparation H for all your fat a*s problems !
posted by elpapacito at 5:25 AM on January 16, 2003


All edible bananas originate in whole or in part from Musa acuminata which is native to the Malay Peninsula and adjacent regions. In prehistoric times, people selected plants with seedless fruits and since then they have been propagated vegetatively from suckers. Although there are huge commercial operations exporting bananas from tropical regions to rich countries in temperate regions, the majority of bananas are grown by small farmers in tropical countries for local consumption.
www.museums.org.za/bio/plants/musaceae/musa.htm

Nothing about the form of the bananas one buys from the market is natural. They have been selected for those traits by the same kind of "intelligent" designers that produced hairless guinea pigs.

The first link does indeed stink of GM propaganda. The banana species is not in danger of extinction, though the particular hybrid cultivar we enjoy from the market may be too diseased to continue in production.
posted by piskycritter at 6:24 AM on January 16, 2003


heh, remember those people who said blondes would die out?

right.
posted by angry modem at 6:28 AM on January 16, 2003


Didn't scientists recently say blondes were going to die out, too?
posted by gramcracker at 6:29 AM on January 16, 2003


I would just like to say that I prefeer GM bananas to ones sprayed with massive amounts of fungicide

I would think it is safer to go with the method tested for over 10,000 years. GM is not safe, since its long term effects (heck, even medium term effects) are unknown. And don't get me started on the benevolence of the corporations behind it (sueing farmers for the effect of wind) . Now that's innovation!
posted by magullo at 6:48 AM on January 16, 2003


Tra la la, tra la la la

Tra la la, tra la la la.

posted by Romios at 6:48 AM on January 16, 2003


Those hairless guinea pigs sure weren't the result of any intelligent design.

*shudder*
posted by gottabefunky at 6:56 AM on January 16, 2003


If this nightmare banana-extinction scenario does, in fact, occur, how long them will it be before hairy armies of banana-starved monkeys, eyes wild with lack of potassium and associated bloodlust, come storming into our cities, raiding our GM fruit stands and biting our fingers off?

*cocks shotgun*
posted by UncleFes at 6:58 AM on January 16, 2003


I would think it is safer to go with the method tested for over 10,000 years.

So you're saying that modifying a plants genetic structure is much safer then, right? I'm confused, I hadn't heard there were a whole lot of Monsanto cans dug up at some Mesopotamian archeological dig in Syria or something. Genetic modification IS the method used for the last 25,000 years of human history, that's when we stopped roaming the plains hunting and gathering and "domesticated" (read: genetically modified) wild grains, animals, fruits, fungi, nuts, etc... We didn't come up with chemical pesticides until the 19th and 20th centuries! Sure we made some herbal concoction to discourage a few beasties or planted plants that deter pests among the other plants, but genetic modification has been the method of choice until the present day, its just we can go in now and directly screw around with the DNA instead of waiting a couple generations for the hulls to grow a little tougher or the fruit to be a little redder.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:19 AM on January 16, 2003


*cocks shotgun*

*strides up along side... cocks and winks*
posted by Witty at 7:20 AM on January 16, 2003


Did I just say that?
posted by Witty at 7:20 AM on January 16, 2003


*Listens to Romios's post*

*cocks shotgun*
posted by Pollomacho at 7:28 AM on January 16, 2003


Peanuts are having a similar problem. It was discussed in the holiday issue of "New Scientist" Dec 21-28 but the article does not seem to be available online. The problem with the peanut is too much breeding has lead to peanuts losing their ability to fight pests and diseases. They are attempting to find wild peanuts in Bolivia so they can breed the attributes back in. Unfortunately because of a new pipeline and reasons related to it scientists are cut off from the region and the wild peanuts may become extinct by the time they get access back. So it would seem genetic engineering also may become the only known solution to saving peanuts as well.
posted by GreenDragon at 7:35 AM on January 16, 2003


Did I just say that?

Any comrade who'll help me defend my bananas is a welcome comrade.

Now put that thing away, some potassium-starved monkey will bite it off.
posted by UncleFes at 7:39 AM on January 16, 2003


You would think that if these plants were on the verge of extinction that the price of bananas and peanuts would jump through the roof, yet, they actually seem pretty cheap still. Isn't that the whole supply and demand thing?
posted by Pollomacho at 8:10 AM on January 16, 2003


Pollomacho The haste in adopting GM is only based on the desire of these companies to make a huge profit NOW and to the hell what comes in 20 years. I know it because I happen to consult for them.

Additionally, as I expressed before and you ignored, the sueing farmers for what the wind has carried to their fields and other niceties are also part of the GM food agribusiness package. Please read up on it before focusing on the vaguely positive and wishful bits. I provided a couple of links earlier.

(Good call on the supply and demand thing, BTW. It's actually the propaganda thing what applies to this case.)
posted by magullo at 8:15 AM on January 16, 2003


Tra la la, tra la la la

Liz Phair does it better. Neener.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:18 AM on January 16, 2003


GreenDragon The problem with the peanut is too much breeding has lead to peanuts losing their ability to fight pests and diseases.

Perhaps if the peanuts took a moment to catch their breath between breedings they wouldn't get so worn-down and immune suppressed that they can't fight diseases. I mean really peanuts, there's more to life than sex.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:23 AM on January 16, 2003


Magullo, would you prefer the "benevolence" of Dow or Monsanto to ADM then? Please read up on what? The methods used for over 25,000 years has been genetic modification. Massive spraying of chemicals to do what we were too impatient of greedy [PDF] to let nature do virtually wiped birds off the planet and you think that GMO companies are somehow worse than chemical companies in pushing their products without testing for immediate profits?

Yes, we need better testing of these products, but the potential benefits in the reduction of fertilizer and pesticides, not to mention soil erosion and water depletion, demands that these tests go on! Yes, big corporations can do MANY sleezy things in the name of profits, I will NOT be dragged into defending their actions, that's what they hire massive legal teams for!
posted by Pollomacho at 8:36 AM on January 16, 2003


Example of corporate benevolence.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:40 AM on January 16, 2003


Pollomacho, you arguments are bizarre. DDT was widely used before it was banned due to its danger. Are we suggesting we take the same path with GM, disseminate without asserting its dangers first? That's the deal with traditional genetic engineering methods - you've got to wait and see if it works before you sell it. These guys are pushing to bypass that step. And funny you mention the terrible chemical companies, they being the ones behind GM in the first place.
posted by magullo at 8:46 AM on January 16, 2003


DDT was widely used before it was banned due to its danger.

Making the world once again safe for the rather less speculative danger of malaria.

Don't like GM? Don't eat it. But don't pretend that science is the reason. There are no more scientific concerns here than there are in sacrificing virgins to the rain god, and just as much sense.
posted by UncleFes at 9:01 AM on January 16, 2003


Apples still grow in the wild. Friend of mine went to WWI battlefields in France and came upon a number of old wild apple trees (you can tell they are wild because the apples are inedible) and concluded they were probably from apple cores thrown away by soldiers since the area had gone to scrub since the battle and not used by farmers.
posted by stbalbach at 9:09 AM on January 16, 2003


Making the world once again safe for the rather less speculative danger of malaria

Indeed, but then again malaria is only really a problem for poor people, kind of like aids in Africa. Who gives a shit about those who cannot pay for their own medicines? Not our Western drug manufacturers, I'll tell you that much.

Don't like GM? Don't eat it.

That has to be the single most ignorant statement I've heard the whole week - hell, the whole year. It does not work that way, buddy. GM is not simple science, it has a very clear business plan behind it. A business plan which does not account for failure to deliver ... a highly untested and already problematic (i.e. due to the inevitable pollution of adjacent crops) product. Think an Enron finale combined with an outbreak of something as nasty as Mad Cow Disease (the prions causing it cannot be killed or eliminated) and you'll get close to a likely potential near-future scenario.

Which is why the producers are fighting hard AGAINST the special labeling of GM products. How can I not eat it if I am not given a choice in the first place?
posted by magullo at 9:26 AM on January 16, 2003


I think you may have missed the "we need better testing of these products" part in my last post as well as the part about us being "impatient or greedy".

What you may have also missed from your own post is that the companies are not suing farmers for the effect of wind despite what may have editorialized, but rather they are suing for stealing their products, the farmers' defense is that their possession of the GM products was due to wind, if the courts find this to be true then they will win their case, however, the companies don't seem to believe them.

There are court cases like this everywhere, that's why there are so many lawyers, sometimes the companies even legitimately have a case, occasionally they don't, that's for the courts and not journalists, not consultants (who shouldn't legally be talking about their clients' internal proprietary information on a public forum anyway) nor posters to a weblog to decide. Dow may legitimately think that they were "damaged" by the Indian protestors. I really don't know if these companies actually were damaged or if its all just greed or sleaze. I do know that editorializing the issue is not going to help us figure out the truth.

Genetically modified foods hold a lot of promise. We could potentially reduce our pesticide and fertilizer dependence, create drought resistant crops, increase nutrition and yield of foods and help wipe out the hunger associated with the worlds overpopulation and dwindling amount of productive arable lands, or we can freak out whenever anyone mentions GM foods and demand that we stop testing them all together, or the third alternative we can let companies spread them all over the earth for large profits until they've "infected" all the other crops and its too late to test them. I would prefer to let universities test the stuff, companies will certainly get in on it somewhat, because that's where the funding is going to come from, but no, they don't need to spread these things globally like DDT until we know what the potential hazards are. Organic foods are simply not going to produce the yields that are needed to feed the masses and pesticides and chemical fertilizers are going to destroy our planet, we need an alternative and GM foods offer that alternative, as long as they are tested! I really don't think we're arguing on different sides of this issue at all anyway, I just think its odd you would call modifying the genetic makeup of a plant or animal a "new" process and pesticide use as tried and true. The apple example is a good one, you can't find a Granny Smith in the wild, they don't exist, wild apples are tiny and sour like what we call crab apples, but we geneticaly modified the apple to make Fiji's, Granny Smith's, Golden Delicious, etc...
posted by Pollomacho at 9:29 AM on January 16, 2003


Bananas, mayonaisse, and pinto beans: You shan't be missed.
posted by brittney at 9:59 AM on January 16, 2003


I, for one, welcome our new GM banana overlords.
posted by Guy Smiley at 10:01 AM on January 16, 2003


That has to be the single most ignorant statement I've heard the whole week

Well, be patient, this IS Metafilter and the week's not over yet.

a highly untested and already problematic (i.e. due to the inevitable pollution of adjacent crops) product. Think an Enron finale combined with an outbreak of something as nasty as Mad Cow Disease (the prions causing it cannot be killed or eliminated) and you'll get close to a likely potential near-future scenario.

I think we have a runner-up though! That is, if willful ignorance counts...? "highly untested and already problematic" "Inevitable" "combined" and "likely"? Heh.
posted by UncleFes at 10:06 AM on January 16, 2003


the statement was ignorant, because you can't just 'not buy GM foods'.

I'd like to see you find milk from cows that weren't pumped full of hormones, around my area.
posted by angry modem at 10:23 AM on January 16, 2003


I'm scared of the amount of fungicide, pesticide, herbicide, etc that's applied to bananas. I had no idea they were so... poisoned.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:27 AM on January 16, 2003


Certainly you can! Even in America, awash as we are in GM, there's myriad farmers markets that readily advertise non-GM and organic foods, there are large chains of stores like Wild Oats that sell non-GM foods, and information regarding what foods DO contain GM ingredients is widely available (me local Borders has a whole shelf of books on this). This is in addition to the option of growing your own. I happily eat GM, yet grow my own vegetables and herbs in season. If you want to avoid GM, you can. Easily.
posted by UncleFes at 10:28 AM on January 16, 2003


The debate, such as it is, is about whether or not those who truly don't have a choice should be deprived of food because of speculative and contrary-to-evidence myth concerning GM foods. Hate corporations? Fine. Starve and subject Africans to disease because you buy into the myth of Frankenfoods? A different story.
posted by UncleFes at 10:31 AM on January 16, 2003


Organic foods are simply not going to produce the yields that are needed to feed the masses

Says who?


information regarding what foods DO contain GM ingredients is widely available (me local Borders has a whole shelf of books on this)

Borders is a bookstore, not a supermarket. Information pertaining uncertainties about something as important as what we eat should be right by the product, not elsewhere. (IOW, learning about the dangers of bleach in the library does not waive the need for safety measures on the bottles themselves).

Starve and subject Africans to disease because you buy into the myth of Frankenfoods?

Hey, it's always Africa's fault. Never mind that they can't compete in farming with the West due to proteccionist tariffs that ensure that when they need generic drugs to fight their diseases, they don't get them. Hunger and disease, my ass. shame on you!
posted by magullo at 10:44 AM on January 16, 2003


Two things:

1. Selective breeding, as practiced by farmers for thousands of years, is not the same thing as genetic modification. The two are qualitatively different. If there is to be any intelligent debate on genetically modified foods, we have to use language correctly. A statement such as "The methods used for over 25,000 years has been genetic modification," employs a mendacious and misleading use of the term "genetic modification." Farmers have been practicing selective breeding, not genetic modification.

2. Regardless of your position on genetic engineering of foods, you should have the right to know whether the products you by at the grocery contain GM ingredients. Unfortunately, the FDA is trying to forbid organic food producers from labeling their food as "GMO-free."

(On preview: If only UncleFes statement "If you want to avoid GM, you can. Easily," were true. See link above.
posted by spacewaitress at 10:45 AM on January 16, 2003


Why is changing the characteristics of a plant/animal/fungi's genetic structure different when done through selective breeding, it is still modifying the genetic structure, that is the definition of genetic modification, no? genetically, structurally, chemically, the plants are completely separate from their ancestral counterparts. Some of these modifications have taken place in very recent history, particularly certain fruits and nuts. Genetic Modification as defined as laboratory manufactured genetics is a misnomer, just like the term "organic" as in food, all food is organic, or else it would be inedible. Humans don't eat rocks.

Never mind that they can't compete in farming with the West due to protectionist tariffs that ensure that when they need generic drugs to fight their diseases

Now wait a minute, Africa can't compete for plenty of other reasons as well, such as climate, warfare, soil quality, access to chemical pesticides and fertilizers, the types of crops grown, post imperialist government chaos... sure tariffs on drugs etc play some role in Africa's poverty but it is not THE reason.

Says who that "organic" foods can't compete with GM or "non-organic" production, says my grocer, that's why they charge me so much more for "organics"! Look at the "organic" apples at your whole foods store and look at the "non-organic" often they will be competitive in size, color, taste, all those things that grocers and consumers look for, but not price, why? Supply and demand, otherwise somebody would be going to jail, we have laws against price fixing on consumer goods in this country!
posted by Pollomacho at 11:20 AM on January 16, 2003


A little effort on the part of the person wishing to eat non-GM might be necessary to locate non-GM foods, much like a little effort might be necessary to locate any product that holds as yet a small market share. In the meantime, assume anything you buy that doesn't advertise as organic or non-GM is GM. But in my experince, as an American living in the Midwest, I can get non-GM foods if I want. Yes, I do have to go out of my way. Yes, they are a tad more expensive. Yes, the quality and taste of organic is less than the same product with GM. But they are advertised and available.

Hunger and disease, my ass. shame on you!

Please. When Europe forces Africans to plant organic crops on shitty land because they won't take GM exports that Africa depends upon, and the inevitable famines occur, whose shame is that?

[On Preview] Again, Pollomacho puts succinctly and amenably what I, being the impetuous sort, only nod at in my knee-jerk responses to provocation. Here then I stop.
posted by UncleFes at 11:26 AM on January 16, 2003


"Is curved towards the face to make eating process easy"

Yeah, right. I stopped eating bananas years ago because all the ones I got curved away from me, making it nearly impossible to eat one.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:38 AM on January 16, 2003


"Why is changing the characteristics of plant/animal/fungi's genetic structure different when done through selective breeding, it is still modifying the genetic structure"

Selective breeding is not changing the genetic structure. It is selection based on desired characteristics.

Selective breeding can give you crops with dramatically different qualities than their ancestors. But no amount of selective breeding would ever enable you to insert a gene from a fish into a tomato.

Why is it so important for you to obscure the issue by insisting that these two different processes are the same thing?
posted by spacewaitress at 12:04 PM on January 16, 2003


A chihuahua is not a wolf. A Granny Smith is not a crab apple. An ear of corn is not the single seeded fruit of the proto-corn plant. We have selected characteristics of those plants which we like and made the genes of all corn plants, all granny smith branches and all chihuahuas to suit our whims. A chihuahua is not a wolf because its modified genetic structure tells it to be a chihuahua and not a wolf, despite common ancestry and common genetic make-up (a wolf and a chihuahua could very well have viable offspring or a granny smith branch could be grafted onto a crab apple tree). A tomato is not a naturally occurring fruit in the first place, ancient Mexicans made tomatillos out of a pitiful, poisonous vining nightshade and Europeans turned it into the various forms of tomatoes we have today. If we liked we could get a tomato plant to change to have the same genetic characteristics we can find in a fish cell, it might take many generations, but it could most likely be done, and the genetic structure of the tomato cell would be changed, or we can do it in a lab in a shorter period of time, or we could come up with a chemical which we could spray on the plant that would have the same effect as the new genetic structure. No, the actual DNA of a fish would not be inserted, but the plant in selective breeding would show the same make up as if it had been done by hand, it would be modified genetically. Now, why do I feel that it is important to clarify this point or as you like to accuse, "obscure the issue?" Because it was a poster's contention that dumping pesticides on plants was the method of choice by farmers for over 10,000 years rather than structurally changing the make-up of the plant to suit our whims. Selective breeding is not dumping pesticide, nor is it inserting fish dna into a tomato, it is however modifying the genetic structure of a plant to suit our desires.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:41 PM on January 16, 2003


I have faith that my stomach acid can take care of ANY genetically modified foods. Banana or otherwise.
posted by geekhorde at 11:33 PM on January 16, 2003


Coming in very late, but I couldn't help noticing that UncleFes avoided dealing with Spacewaitress' point about the FDA actively trying to *prevent* consumers from knowing that the food they buy is not genetically modified.

You'd think a free marketeer would be up in arms over that kind of government meddling. But free marketeers never seem to get upset about government meddling so long as the meddling benefits big corporations. The bias is striking and bizarre.
posted by mediareport at 8:59 AM on January 26, 2003


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