Bananas, Famine, Hoover, Cannibalism, and GMOs

The Banana genome is compared with five other plants showing the overlap in shared “gene families” among them. A strong candidate for coolest Venn diagram of 2012.

Remember when I told you about the ever-popular Banana?

Besides being an ironic argument against “intelligent design,” the banana is the most popular fruit in the world, dominating international trade and domestic consumption.

It is a “very delicate commodity on economic, social, environmental, and political grounds:” it’s a major staple crop for developing nations [it prevents billions from starving], it’s the major source of income and employment for most countries where it is grown [billions more subsist on the banana trade], and it was the cornerstone of American hegemony exerted through the Roosevelt Corollary [this is our back yard] to the Monroe Doctrine [so stay on your side of the Atlantic, eurotrash].

And how it is so inbred that it’s only a matter of time until its demise could wreak havoc on the global economy? And somehow that relates to Chihuahuas?

By all measures, the banana is already a terminal patient.  It’s a highly inbred clone, it hasn’t reproduced sexually in centuries–all plants are grown from cuttings, it has no seeds from which to grow new fertile plants or make natural hybrids via pollination, no one bothered to keep a fertile healthy strain in reserve should future problems arise, and it’s so prone to environmental hazards that commercial operations bathe the plants in anti-fungals and pesticides in unprecidented levels.  Heck, it’s also the most radioactive food you’ll ever eat [so much so that scientists often measure radiation in the "banana equivalent dose"] unless you take tea with the Russian mob.

Wild bananas are short, stubby, and full of seeds.

Well, there’s some good news and bad news. [h/t cynoanarchist].  The bad news is that the plague with the potential to wipe out half the bananas on the planet is already here and killing bananas in Asia and Australia:

This stage is set for a commercial scale disaster. Every Cavendish is exactly as susceptible to disease and pathogens as every other Cavendish. Race 4 Panama disease has already hit Asia – once it gets to Latin America, the Cavendish will be wiped out of commercial scale production all together. It’s happened before. The banana of choice of the 1940s was a different variety all together, the Gros Michel, until it was wiped out by Race 1 Panama disease. But there are few if any viable replacement varieties waiting in the wings, when the Cavendish finally kicks it.

The good news is that the banana genome has been sequenced and published.  If there’s a means of saving the Cavendish and perhaps resurrecting the superior Gros Michel which few–if any–of us has had the pleasure of enjoying, this is the first step. You see, Genetically Modified Organisms aren’t just evil products of soulless corporations hell-bent on poisoning us on their way to greater profits; genetic modification is a tool and thus it is amoral, it can be used for great good for mankind.

GMO skeptics have argued that the current slate of modified crops have not met the challenge of combating world hunger, but keeping the Cavendish monoculture viable could be one of the greatest humanitarian acts of the next century.

GM bananas? 

In 2008, Uganda announced plans to start testing wilt-resistant genetically modified bananas, using a protein gene from sweet pepper to counter the disease.

According to NARO, preliminary laboratory tests have indicated that transgenic banana plants appear to be resistant to the wilt but these efforts have been hampered by inadequate funding.

Most of the bananas grown in the world are consumed locally with less than 10 percent sold commercially, making the risk of reduced exports because of anti-GM policies low, say researchers.

In Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, bananas constitute more than 30 percent of the daily per capita calorie intake.

Crop failures are one of the most potent agents of human suffering and culturally changing events in our history.

The depopulation of Ireland due to the Potato Famine lasted for more than a century. The island supported more than 8 million people in 1845, today there are only 6.4 million.

In 1845 there were just over 8 million people on the island of Ireland when the Great Potato Famine (caused by a fungus-like organism) killed more than a million people and forced another million to emigrate.  The population bleed didn’t stop until the 1970s when the island population bottomed out at just over 4 million people.  Almost 170 years later there are only 6.4 million people in total on the island.  There are now 6 times as many Irish descendants in America as there are in Ireland due to the Irish diaspora.

Whereas the Irish Potato Famine is almost universally remembered, you probably haven’t even heard of the Russian Famine of 1921 which killed over 5 million people.  Nor would you associate it with the heroic efforts of Herbert Hoover who organized the relief.

Corn grits, cocoa, condensed milk, white bread and sugar.

This was America’s menu for the starving millions in Soviet Russia during the 1921-23 famine – one of the greatest human disasters in Europe since the Black Death. The famine relief was spearheaded by Herbert Hoover, whose biographers credited him with saving more lives than any person who has ever lived.

The world barely remembers the terrible famine – or the American charity that alleviated it, marking what was perhaps the first time that a large-scale relief was extended to an enemy. Patenaude said the typical American reaction to this jaw-dropping moment of history is: How come I’ve never heard about this?

During World War I, more than a decade before his presidency, Hoover helped organize relief efforts for 7 million Belgians living under German occupation.

With the end of the war, the United States was asked to feed tens of millions of people in 21 war-torn nations. Hoover was tapped to head the newly created ARA.

Nothing prepared the ARA team for what they found in the largest nation in the world, Soviet Russia. The communist state had a transportation system in chaos, a hostile climate, a mistrustful Bolshevik government that spied on the U.S. relief workers and the horrifying magnitude of a catastrophic famine that threatened 16 million with starvation at its height in the winter of 1921.

The famine, exacerbated by government mass requisitioning of grain in the previous years, was killing about 100,000 people a week. Soviet estimates from the 1920s claim 5 million died in the famine, although other estimates range up to 10 million.

The situation was so dire that in some regions people fed the dead to animals and then consumed the animals before finally resorting to direct cannibalism. Warning, the image below is graphic and disturbing.

Russian cannibals documented by a Japanese visitor.

Here is the context that accompanies this graphic image.

The wars wiped out the stores and the ardent sun made fields dry. First, people sold what they could sell but very soon even the supplies ware run out of products and didn’t want to take things for food. So, people started to eat cats, dogs, rats, birds, grass and finally, human beings. The cases involving cannibalism usually were not measured as a real crime, and were considered to be just a survival thing. Anyway, those people were sent to prisons, were cannibalism was a common practice as well.

Samara region, 13 April, 1922
“… in the larder we found two pieces, in the stove there was one piece of boiled human flesh, and in the inner porch there was a pot with jellied minced flesh of the same kind, and near the porch we found a lot of bones. When we asked the woman where she had taken the flesh from, she confessed that back in February her 8-year-old son Nikita died and then her 15-year-old daughter Anna and she took his copse and cut it into pieces, and as they were starving they ate it together. When there was nothing else left, she decided to kill the daughter for meat and did it in the early April. While the girl was sleeping, she slaughtered her and cut the corpse into pieces, and started to cook it. She gave the jellied flesh and liver to her neighbors Aculina and Evdokia, saying that it was horse meat. The human flesh, Anna’s thighs and feet are taken to the police as evidence, the boiled meat and bones and the jellied meat have been consigned to the earth…”

Even with such horrific conditions, Lenin initially blocked foreign aid, but continued efforts by a handful of humanitarian groups would bring Lenin to the table and open the channels to allow relief supplies to reach the impoverished peoples.  Contrary to the popular view that mass humanitarian aid can only be accomplished through strictly governmental means, the relief effort in Russia was a private affair that grew out of both private and governmental programs and was funded by both congress and private donations.

Hoover undertook the relief of Soviet Russia not as an official representative of the United States government but as the head of a private agency–the American Relief Administration (A.R.A.). Yet, to observers throughout the world and especially to the Bolshevik regime, the meeting at Riga in August 1921 between A.R.A. and Soviet representatives to establish the ground rules for the relief mission took on the aspect of an important diplomatic conference.  The quasi-official status of the A.R.A. derived from its inheritance of the title and personnel of an official American agency in 1919, its direction by the secretary of commerce, and its history of close support of American foreign policy.  As it turned out, the Riga conference developed into a vigorous dialogue by proxy between Hoover and Lenin, and culminated in an agreement signed by their representatives after only ten days of negotiation.

Herbert Hoover, under-appreciated humanitarian hero.

The program was highly successful.

At its peak, the ARA employed 300 Americans, more than 120,000 Russians and fed 10.5 million people daily. Its Russian operations were headed by Col. William N. Haskell. The Medical Division of the ARA functioned from November 1921 to June 1923 and helped overcome the typhus epidemic then ravaging Russia. The ARA’s famine relief operations ran in parallel with much smaller Mennonite and Quaker famine relief operations in Russia.

The only true cure for famine is the reinstatement of agriculture and that requires healthy seeds.  More than just feeding the starving Russians, it was replacement seed that resolved the crisis.  (There is no replacement seed for Bananas and no hopes for a resistant cultivar without genetic modification.)

The first American relief ships arrived in Soviet Russia in September 1921. In December, the U.S. Congress passed an appropriation to send $20 million worth of corn and wheat seed to starving Russia. About 300 relief workers set off into unfamiliar terrain – often by horse, camel and sled – to assess needs and arrange for storehouses for the millions of bushels of corn and thousands of tons of seed, which began to arrive in the Russian heartland in March 1922.

The effort was internationally praised for its efficiency, grit and ingenuity. By August 1922, five months after the corn reached remote villages, the ARA was feeding nearly 11 million a day in 19,000 kitchens. The ARA hired 120,000 Soviet citizens to help its effort.

One survivor, Zukra Ibragimova, appears in the PBS film.

“People used to call that food ‘America,’” she says. “So we were handed out ‘America.’ At home, people cooked soup out of it, fed their children. This, of course, was a great help to us. My father used to say, ‘See, the Americans did the right thing, sent us help.”

Seed from the American Midwest, planted in the spring of 1922, ensured that the famine would not return.

An ARA transport column on the frozen Volga, Tsaritsyn

It’s not too surprising that this event and Hoover’s role has been suppressed given that leftist historians have preferred to cast Hoover as the foil to FDR (Hoover was scapegoated and FDR praised in response to the Great Depression) and Lenin’s propaganda machine had no place for good will toward America.

In July 1922, author Maxim Gorky wrote to Hoover on behalf of the Soviet government to praise the relief efforts.

“Your help will enter history as a unique, gigantic achievement, worthy of the greatest glory, which will long remain in the memory of millions of Russians whom you have saved from death,” he wrote.

But it didn’t happen. Soviet leaders had an interest in forgetting and distorting this episode in their history, which was rewritten to tell a tale about conniving American spies infiltrating to commit acts of sabotage under the guise of kindness.

“Lenin’s government never recognized America’s humanitarian motives,” said the PBS film’s award-winning producer, Austin Hoyt.

On the American side, Hoover’s reputation as a failed president overshadowed his humanitarian achievement. He was viewed as the man who saved Russia but couldn’t save his own citizenry from the economic spiral of the Great Depression.

Giving Hoover the honor of “saved more lives than any person who has ever lived” might require some explanations in light of some other candidates like Edward Jenner who pioneered the smallpox vaccine and the field of immunology itself, or perhaps Agostino Bassi and Louis Pasteur for developing the germ theory of disease, or any of the people who pioneered basic hygiene like hand-washing or clean drinking water.  But one name stands as a rival to Hoover in the specific field of feeding starving people: Norman Borlaug.

Dr. Norman Borlaug, wheat genius and humanitarian.

Borlaug was a geneticist and plant pathologist who developed high-yield wheat cultivars that were resistant to disease and appropriate for tropical climates. He then worked to bring his advanced wheat and modern farming techniques to India, Mexico, and Pakistan.  His efforts doubled the wheat output in India and Pakistan who had suffered greatly before his intervention due to successive wars and famines and whom many population scientists believed would be unable to feed their growing masses.  In Mexico, Borlaug’s plants and techniques blossomed into a booming industry allowing Mexico to be a net exporter of wheat.

This “Green Revolution” is credited with saving the lives of more than a billion people worldwide who would otherwise have died from starvation.  Bringing this full-circle back to GMOs, Borlaug believed that genetic modification could continue the revolution he started by creating more than 6,000 test-crosses of wheat plants to develop his revolutionary cultivars:

Q: How is food science improving the production of food?

A: The research projects are continuing, and improvements are being made. Genetically modified organisms are a big step in that direction, but there’s a lot of confusion in that. Some people fear genetic modification, which is not very sound, because we’ve been genetically modifying plants and animals for a long time. Long before we called it science, people were selecting the best breeds.
Q: Has a fear of genetically modified food exacerbated the world food supply problem?

A: I think so. A good example is the Bt gene, which can be incorporated into cotton to reduce the number of applications of insecticides greatly. In corn, that same gene controls certain insects and cuts down the amount of insecticide needed. But people say, ‘OK, if that’s incorporated, it’s not permitting insects to multiply, so it must be deleterious for humans, too.’ But this isn’t necessarily so. A large percentage of U.S. corn has the Bt gene in it to control certain pests, and it’s been so for more than a decade. There’s no good evidence it’s done any harm. This technology has brought major economic and environmental benefits.

But when we ship this type of corn in U.S. AID (Agency for International Development) to help undernourished and hungry people, it gets to be a political football. In Zimbabwe, recently, the president refused to accept this kind of food for his starving people.

It’s unfortunate that politics, superstition, and propaganda have not only lead to mass starvation in the past, it’s likely that the anti-GMO movement will lead to similar inefficiencies in the future. Inefficiencies that will cost lives.  Dogma that will cost lives.  If given the choice between starvation, cannibalism or GMOs, I wonder if the zealots will vote for starvation over GMOs.  I think they’d actually suggest cannibalism; starvation or suicide is just too simple.

That’s what PeTA did when given the choice between exiting the shelter business entirely, doing the work to find homes for dogs, or kill them en masse.  No one needs PeTA to run their shelter, they could just as easily get out of the business of taking in dogs and killing them.  They could also choose to actually work towards finding new homes for the dogs they do take in, but there’s no evidence that they make any effort to do so when 95% of the dogs they acquire are put to death.  They make the choice to kill dogs en masse.  They look at all their options and that is the one that best supports their agenda.

Just like Lenin made the choice to kill Russians en masse during the 1921 famine and his successor Stalin made the choice to likewise exterminate Ukrainians via famine during the Holodomor.  This mirrors the British complicity in the Irish Potato famine.  All three governments confiscated foodstuffs from those who needed it to eat and replant and used them to feed other more preferential citizens and even sell on the open market for money; money that did not go back to those who were slowly but steadily starving.  PeTA and the HSUS both make money through their mass slaughter of pets and the goal is the same: mass depopulation.

And that’s how bananas, famine, Hoover, Cannibalism, GMOs, and Animal Rights lunacy all come together.  Some people fight border wars to keep people in, keep people out and make a lot of people dead.  Others find ways to cross borders and rise above the wars and in doing so bring life and prosperity to millions, perhaps billions of people.

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About Christopher

Christopher Landauer is a fifth generation Colorado native and second generation Border Collie enthusiast. Border Collies have been the Landauer family dogs since the 1960s and Christopher got his first one as a toddler. He began his own modest breeding program with the purchase of Dublin and Celeste in 2006 and currently shares his home with their children Mercury and Gemma as well. His interest in genetics began in AP Chemistry and AP Biology and was honed at Stanford University.