Friday, June 5, 2009

Scary Bananas

I guess I’m the last one to find this out but I just learned those PLU numbers on produce means more than just an item’s price. They tell you if you’re eating Frankenfood.

Conventionally grown produce is a four-digit number, usually beginning with the number 4. A conventional banana is labeled 4011 for example.

Organic produce is a five-digit number, beginning with the number 9. So organic bananas are labeled 94011.

And five-digit numbers beginning with an 8 are (cue “Psycho” music) genetically modified. 84011 in the case of a Frankenbanana, a scary banana with a rice gene bioengineered into its DNA to help it fend off a fungus.


Apparently this is necessary because bananas haven’t had sex in 10,000 years, and if you’d like to know how a $12 billion a year crop could come from a mutant plant with three sets of chromosomes in which every plant comes from trees living 10,000 years ago, well, good luck figuring that out.

Perhaps bananas are not the best proof that God exists, though they do seem to provide an example of what happens when something doesn’t evolve. But I digress.

Anyway, I’m sympathetic to the plight of the banana, which can’t seem to evolve defenses on its own. But I still don’t want to eat bananas with rice genes, or apples with fungus genes or Roundup-resistant soy (which is 91% of all soy beans grown in America). Call it ignorance, call it hysteria, call it whatever you want, but my instinct tells me this Frankenfood is a really, really bad idea and 20 years from now we’re going to wonder what the hell were we thinking?

Meanwhile, I think back to my many trips to the grocery store, and all of those PLU codes beginning with the number “8” I am praying I didn't swipe through the self-scanner. Please tell me I didn't. Please tell me I'm remembering it wrong.

GMO foods are supposed to feed the world, but guess what, we already have enough food to feed the world, the problem isn’t growing enough food it’s getting the food we have to the people who need it. The problem is humans, not plants.

Near as I can tell, GMO food hasn’t lived up to its promises. Even the first GMO to be sold in U.S. grocery stores, the “FlavrSavr” tomato, genetically modified to increase its shelf life, has been a big dud.

Good luck, Mexico, keeping GMO corn from cross-pollinating with your native maize, no matter how many "centers of origin" you establish. Do you really think its worth the risk?

And as for the banana, well, I just refuse to believe that bananas will be wiped off the face of the earth by a fungus. They've been around for 10,000 years, the fungus has been around for those same 10,000 years. The parasite will not kill its host.