(Feb. 5) I love doomsayers, and for good reason. Generally speaking, the cataclysm they see so clearly in the haze of their worldview somehow doesn’t show up in the scope of reality.

The self-appointed nannies of the world have a way of nattering on and on about one impending calamity after another. The disasters vary; only their demands for additional funding (usually from government, i.e., you and me) remain consistent. And I love that one-size-fits-all catch phrase, “Protect the environment.” It applies to everyone in general but nobody in particular.

The global-warming crowd is a case in point. For 30 years, the wailers and teeth gnashers have been yammering ad nauseum about how scientists have predicted the demise of our planet because of greenhouse gases.

What these Chicken Littles don’t mention — aside from the qualifications of such emissaries of science who make such pronouncements — is the mountain of data that refutes those claims. Find me a scientist who believes in global warming, and I’ll find one who dismisses the theory as so much hot air.

I’m not sure what the green movement’s credo is, but I’m sure it goes something like this: “In case of drought, flooding, rain, snow and volcanic eruptions, blame global warming.”

Well, OK. They’ll find a way to blame the Republicans, too.

The produce business is, of course, caught up in as many flaps as any other.

Genetic modification is a biggie with the sign carriers (yes, some of them can spell).

And it’s just that issue that could actually, ultimately, trip them up.

After all, can you imagine a world without bananas?

That’s the prospect we’re staring at if a Belgian scientist is correct.

Emile Frison, noted plant pathologist and head of something called the International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain in France, has warned that bananas lack the genetic wherewithal to fend off diseases and pests that are plaguing banana plantations.

The kicker comes in the second half of his finding.

He says that only biotechnology and genetic manipulation can save the banana from extinction.

Gnash away, protesters.

Frison gives bananas 10 years unless they get a little man-made help.

“Frison sees it as the only hope for the banana,” the journal New Scientist reported Jan. 15.


It seems the banana is sterile and seedless, utterly helpless against disease. Always has been, those in the lab coats remind us.

Without a little genetic boost, Frison reasons, banana production could, well, slip toward its inevitable demise.

Tim Debus, vice president of the International Banana Association, Alexandria, Va., is more than a little skeptical.

“There are no indications that bananas would no longer be around in the short and long term,” he said.

News reports on this issue indicate that there is precedent. They say that Panama disease, caused by a soil fungus, wiped out the gros michel variety in the 1950s. Growers simply replaced it with the cavendish, the most common variety on today’s market.

But blaming the downfall of the gros michel on disease isn’t entirely accurate, said Bruce Paschal, a now-retired produce executive who helped establish sales and marketing operations for Standard Fruit & Steamship — the forerunner of Dole Fresh Fruit Co. — in Europe and Japan.

“Yes, in the ‘50s, Panama disease was starting to be a problem for gros michel, but it always had been,” Paschal said. “But at the same time, we were developing boxes (instead of shipping the fruit unprotected on 100-pound stems), which put the cavendish into its ascendancy.”

In addition to age-old pest problems, the newest plague on banana production is black sigatoka, another fungal disease that, scientists say, has reached global epidemic proportions.

New Scientist compared the threat to bananas to the potato blight which brought famine to Ireland in the 1840s.

Fungicides are proving increasingly ineffective against the diseases, and black sigatoka especially, Frison said.

Frison was part of a consortium of scientists last year that announced plans to sequence the genetic blueprint of the banana within five years.

Similar work already is under way elsewhere. Robert Rose, a virologist with the University of Rochester, is growing a potato genetically injected with a vaccine for human papilloma virus, a sexually transmitted disease affecting 20 million Americans. He plans to inject the vaccine into bananas within two years.

“There’s been quite a lot of work to genetically modify plants to be immune to diseases,” Rose said Jan. 17.

Herbert Aldwinckle, a professor of plant pathology at Cornell University, already has developed a genetically engineered papaya and apple to be resistant to disease.

So it would seem the protesters have their work cut out for them.

What if industry sources are wrong and bananas could, indeed, be in danger of extinction? In that case, the protesters may be hurtling headlong toward a tough choice: a world without genetic engineering or a world without bananas.

You gotta love it.