A new bunch of controversy is growing over genetically modified food as researchers try toÂ fight vitamin A deficiency using gene-spliced bananas.
Using genes from two different bananas - one of them the ubiquitous Cavendish - theÂ scientists have developed fruitÂ that produce beta-carotene, which allows people to makeÂ vitamin A.
The research is spearheaded at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia, with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
In April 2014, emails circulated at Iowa State University asking for test volunteers to eat just three of the orange-tinted GM bananas for $900.
The ISU emailsÂ sparkedÂ student protests. ActivistsÂ argue that many banana cultivars are already high in beta-carotene, and should be promoted instead of GMO versions.
Opponents also say the Cavendish banana, popular among growers because of itsÂ resilience to long-distance shipping, is vulnerable to fungus and other diseases.
In February, activists deliveredÂ a bunch of 57,000 signatures to the university and the Gates Foundation's headquarters in Seattle.
Health advocates have been looking for ways to get more carotene into children's diets worldwide to prevent deadly sicknesses like diarrhea, malaria and measles.
The World Health Organization says 250,000 to 500,000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, and half of them die within a year ofÂ losing their sight.
Similar efforts to boost beta-carotene with genetically modified Golden Rice met regulatory hurdles due in part to anti-GMO activists â not to mentionÂ allegations of ethics violations.
- These Vitamin-Fortified Bananas Might Get You Thinking Differently About GMOs (Grist)
- A Controversial GMO Study Is Going Bananas (VICE)