Agriculture scientists in Brazil have spent the past decade developing so-called “superfoods” that will soon become a natural alternative to genetically modified frankenfoods grown in many countries including the United States and will alleviate malnutrition for nearly one-third of the world’s population.
These eight biofortified foods are expected to be widely available to consumers throughout Brazil in less than a decade; already there is a pilot program underway in 15 municipalities around the country, Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported.
Continuing, the paper said:
Biofortification uses conventional plant-breeding methods to enhance the concentration of micronutrients in food crops through a combination of laboratory and agricultural techniques.
The goal is to combat micronutrient deficiencies, which can cause severe health problems such as anemia, blindness, impaired immune response and development delays. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, micronutrient malnutrition affects 2 billion people globally.
Taking on ‘hidden hunger’
Efforts to develop biofortified superfoods began a decade ago, when Embrapa, the government’s agricultural research agency, began the project as part of a group of nations seeking to develop varieties of crops that have higher concentrations of necessary micronutrients. The department chose eight foods that are staples in the Brazilian diet: beans, cowpeas (black-eyed peas), rice, sweet potatoes, corn, wheat, cassava and squash.
“We are working on increasing the iron, zinc and provitamin A content. These are the nutrients most lacking not only in Brazil, but in the rest of Latin America and the world as well, the cause of what we call hidden hunger,” food engineer and a biofort co-ordinator, Marilia Nutti, told Tierramerica.
Nutti said iron was especially important, because half of Brazil’s children suffer from some level of iron deficiency.
In addition to the current biofortification project, Brazilian scientists are also working to breed plants of the same species, choosing seeds that appear to exhibit the best traits regarding micronutrient content.
“This is not transgenics. We want a varied diet. Biofortification attacks the root of the problem and is aimed at the poorest sectors of the population. It is scientifically viable and economically viable as well,” Nutti said.
And it’s not genetic modification, either – and that’s key.
The development project is being supported by HarvestPlus and AgroSalud, a pair of research programs that operate in Latin America, Africa and Asia with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank and other developmental agencies.
Booming nutritional content
So far, it looks as though the project is, um, fruitful. The iron content of the beans, for instance, has been elevated from 50 to 90 milligrams of iron per kilogram; cassava, which normally has almost no beta-carotene, now has nine milligrams of the essential vitamin A source per gram.
Meanwhile, the beta-carotene level in sweet potatoes has grown from 10 micrograms per gram to an astounding 115 per gram. Zinc content of rice has grown from 12 to 18 milligrams per kilogram.
Not bad – and without turning the foods into “Frankenfoods.”
Already pre-school children are benefiting from the bio-nutritionally enhanced foods. “In Itaguai, an industrial municipality 44 miles south of Rio de Janeiro, about 8,000 pre-school children are benefiting from these extra-nutritious foods,” the Guardian reported.
Eventually all of the municipality’s family farmers will be included in the project – at least, that’s the goal. Further, within a couple years, the plan is to offer biofortified foods in all schools within the municipality, as well as in stores and public markets.
Curiosity of children is one factor that is “selling” the new biofortified superfoods. “When we tell them that these foods have more vitamins, and they see the deeper colors [of the biofortified crops], they are eager to try them out,” municipal secretary of environment, agriculture and fisheries, Ivana Neves Couto told Tierramerica.
“Brazil is the only country working with eight biofortified crops. Bangladesh, Colombia, India, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Peru, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda are conducting research on one crop each,”
daily alternative | alternative news – GMOs not needed: Brazil scientists developing lifesaving superfoods
Argentine and Brazilian Doctors Name Larvicide as Potential Cause of Microcephaly
A report from the Argentine doctors’ organisation, Physicians in the Crop-Sprayed Towns, challenges the theory that the Zika virus epidemic in Brazil is the cause of the increase in the birth defect microcephaly among newborns.
The increase in this birth defect, in which the baby is born with an abnormally small head and often has brain damage, was quickly linked to the Zika virus by the Brazilian Ministry of Health. However, according to the Physicians in the Crop-Sprayed Towns, the Ministry failed to recognise that in the area where most sick people live, a chemical larvicide that produces malformations in mosquitoes was introduced into the drinking water supply in 2014. This poison, Pyriproxyfen, is used in a State-controlled programme aimed at eradicating disease-carrying mosquitoes.
The Physicians added that the Pyriproxyfen is manufactured by Sumitomo Chemical, a Japanese “strategic partner” of Monsanto. Pyriproxyfen is a growth inhibitor of mosquito larvae, which alters the development process from larva to pupa to adult, thus generating malformations in developing mosquitoes and killing or disabling them. It acts as an insect juvenile hormone or juvenoid, and has the effect of inhibiting the development of adult insect characteristics (for example, wings and mature external genitalia) and reproductive development. It is an endocrine disruptor and is teratogenic (causes birth defects), according to the Physicians.
The Physicians commented: “Malformations detected in thousands of children from pregnant women living in areas where the Brazilian state added Pyriproxyfen to drinking water are not a coincidence, even though the Ministry of Health places a direct blame on the Zika virus for this damage.”
They also noted that Zika has traditionally been held to be a relatively benign disease that has never before been associated with birth defects, even in areas where it infects 75% of the population.
Since 2014, the insecticide Pyriproxyfen has been use to kill mosquitos in water tanks in Brazil
Larvicide the most likely culprit in birth defects
Pyriproxyfen is a relatively new introduction to the Brazilian environment; the microcephaly increase is a relatively new phenomenon. So the larvicide seems a plausible causative factor in microcephaly – far more so than GM mosquitoes, which some have blamed for the Zika epidemic and thus for the birth defects. There is no sound evidence to support the notion promoted by some sources that GM mosquitoes can cause Zika, which in turn can cause microcephaly. In fact, out of 404 confirmed microcephaly cases in Brazil, only 17 (4.2%) tested positive for the Zika virus.
Brazilian health experts agree Pyriproxyfen is chief suspect
The Argentine Physicians’ report, which also addresses the Dengue fever epidemic in Brazil, concurs with the findings of a separate report on the Zika outbreak by the Brazilian doctors’ and public health researchers’ organisation, Abrasco.
Abrasco also names Pyriproxyfen as a likely cause of the microcephaly. It condemns the strategy of chemical control of Zika-carrying mosquitoes, which it says is contaminating the environment as well as people and is not decreasing the numbers of mosquitoes. Abrasco suggests that this strategy is in fact driven by the commercial interests of the chemical industry, which it says is deeply integrated into the Latin American ministries of health, as well as the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organisation.
Abrasco names the British GM insect company Oxitec as part of the corporate lobby that is distorting the facts about Zika to suit its own profit-making agenda. Oxitec sells GM mosquitoes engineered for sterility and markets them as a disease-combatting product – a strategy condemned by the Argentine Physicians as “a total failure, except for the company supplying mosquitoes”.
The poor suffer most
Both the Brazilian and Argentine doctors’ and researchers’ associations agree that poverty is a key neglected factor in the Zika epidemic. Abrasco condemned the Brazilian government for its “deliberate concealment” of economic and social causes: “In Argentina and across America the poorest populations with the least access to sanitation and safe water suffer most from the outbreak.” The Argentine Physicians agreed, stating, “The basis of the progress of the disease lies in inequality and poverty.”
Abrasco added that the disease is closely linked to environmental degradation: floods caused by logging and the massive use of herbicides on (GM) herbicide-tolerant soy crops – in short, “the impacts of extractive industries”.
The notion that environmental degradation may a factor in the spread of Zika finds backing in the view of Dino Martins, PhD, a Kenyan entomologist. Martins said that “the explosion of mosquitoes in urban areas, which is driving the Zika crisis” is caused by “a lack of natural diversity that would otherwise keep mosquito populations under control, and the proliferation of waste and lack of disposal in some areas which provide artificial habitat for breeding mosquitoes”.
daily alternative | alternative news – Argentine and Brazilian Doctors Name Larvicide as Potential Cause of Microcephaly
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