In this briefing we deal with the application by the University of Pretoria for permission to conduct the first ever field trials in South Africa involving GM bananas. The rationale for the genetic modification is to combat Fusarium wilt, caused by a soil born fungi Fusarium oxysporum f.sp cubense (Foc). The idea is to genetically engineer bananas with a rice gene (NPRI homolog (NH1)) to confer resistance to the said Foc. The aim of the field trial is thus to evaluate Cavendish bananas that have been transformed to express the NH1 gene for disease tolerance against Foc. We raise critically important biosafety concerns that have been overlooked in the application. We also review the situation with banana production globally with particular emphasis on the decline in banana production in South Africa. It is our view that GM disease resistant bananas cannot overcome the current problems being experienced, ranging from land tenure to competition from more ecologically suitable production areas such as those in Mozambique. This real issue is that the shift in the industry will mean that 24 000 on farm jobs will be lost, which is a huge concern and requires urgent government attention and intervention. This problem is massively compounded by the fact that it appears as if these workers are unprotected in terms of access to unions.

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