Thursday, August 09, 2007

Article 6: GM Hysteria.

GM Hysteria.


Jayson and Michelle Whitaker were initially refused permission to have a designer baby by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. Apparently it was ‘unlawful and unethical’ to save the life of their three-year-old son with a bone-marrow transplant from this second baby. Thankfully, sanity finally prevailed, and now the deed has been done.

Putting aside questions about who comprise this ‘Authority’, whether or not they were elected (or another fucking quango), and what right they have to make such life-and-death decisions, it can be seen that this is one of the sillier examples of the hysterical fear that has gripped this country for too long, of ‘interfering with God’s work/nature’. The biggest bugbear is ‘GM’, though in the Whitaker case all the parents were doing was selecting the right child, not altering its DNA. ‘Unlawful and unethical’ in all cases such as this are vague terms modern hysterics have now transposed with the vaguer ‘against God or Nature’. These are applied to everything from Human fertilisation to GM crops. But first, let’s look at human DNA.

As our medical technologies advance it is becoming increasingly obvious that most of the diseases killing us now are due to faults in our own DNA or in themselves need studying and tackling at a genetic level. Cancer, though in some cases having a viral or bacteriological cause, propagates by copying errors in the genetic blueprint. To truly defeat it we need to learn how to correct or completely delete those errors, straight chemical intervention mostly just delays the Reaper. The AIDS epidemic that is killing millions is caused by a virus that actually uses the T-cells of our immune system to propagate itself. Again straight forward chemical intervention does nothing more than delay the process. Real results are coming from us taking apart this virus and our own DNA so as to learn how to tackle AIDs. Cutting-edge genetic research is the answer – not reliance on God or Nature.

The subject of GM crops is another one to get people banging their tambourines. Along with my acquisition of a garden came the beginning of a whole new vocabulary. I can now use the words hellebore and aquilegia and actually know what I’m talking about. I now also have a use for epithets, which I use less commonly in my writing, as prefixes for the words slug, snail, ant, and aphid. What, you ask, has this got to do with the GM debate? In reply I can tell you that I recently took part in the slaughter of the innocents. Two handfuls of slug pellets yielded me two litres of dead snails which I duly transferred to my council-subsidised composter. My garden, I’ll have you know, is just about big enough to get the Queen’s head on. Beyond it is a field in which it would fit many thousands of times. A friend of mine is a farmer and he applies slug pellets from a spreader on the back of a quad bike and my few handfuls, I know, translate into sackfuls for this purpose. The environmental cost of this is but a small proportion of the whole. Thousands of gallons of potent herbicides and insecticides are poured onto our land every year. GM crops need few of them, their yield is greater, therefore less land has to be used to produce the same amount of food. When are the hysterics going to realise that in this case we are already in a deep and poisonous hole from which GM just might drag us?

The arguments against GM range from the apparently cogent to the plain silly. Tampering with the human genetic code will produce Midwitch Cuckoos who’ll take over, and consign old humans to the waste bin. Rubbish: it will result in years to come in the eradication of hereditary diseases, of faults, of people dying young or living lives governed by pill bottles, injections or the next pull on an inhaler, and it will be a slow process. There’s the idea that some super plant may wipe-out or displace established species. We’re already doing this with herbicides, and compared to what the natural world produces we are amateurs. Do the hysterics visualise armies of triffids marching across the English countryside? Get real. What we’re having trouble with, is what nature produces. What the hell is so frightening? Could GM produce poisonous plants, killer insects or animals, virulent and fatal diseases … er, nature already seems to be doing a pretty good job in those departments. Really, anyone who thinks that genetic modification is going to produce monsters that billions of years of evolution has not already produced is, frankly, an idiot.

Nature or God, however, do provide us with natural and godlike things. There’s famine, plague, and other disasters that belittle our paltry attempts at the same. More species have been wiped-out by nature than we are ever likely to wipe-out. While we piddle-about with out little wars and exterminations nature comes along and puts us in our place. In the first world war we killed millions. The flu that came along after killed many millions more. Genocide? We’re rank amateurs. Black death killed twenty-five million, which was a third of the Earth’s population at that time. So, when you hear people ranting about nature and how we are playing God, please point out to them that we are not playing. We are trying to solve some serious problems and take control of our own existence. As for nature: we live in a world that is completely unnatural and, in reality, the only way any of us is going to get back to nature is when we’re buried in a paper coffin under a tree.

ENDS.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

If you get your genetic faults fixed what would the drug companies sell you? Incurable hereditary diseases are big bucks don't you know?

GM suffers from being ideal tabloid material, "Frankenstein Foods" etc etc. Genetic modification isn't all that hard depending what you are doing, I made a GM Ecoli at Uni along with the rest of a class.

There is little point in worrying about pesticides etc unless you are exposed to high levels. The human body is actually pretty good at dealing with poisons and does deal with them everyday.

Tea? - Contains plant tannins which are poisons
Mustard? - Carcinogenic
Burnt toast? - Carcinogenic
Chips (French fries) - acrylamide
caffeine is toxic

It's the dose that makes the poison. You can take any poison you like even polonium if it's in a low enough dose.

n.fonseca said...

The Bene Gesserit taught well: Fear is the mindkiller :)

Anonymous said...

Saw a news article today where GM crops are being blamed for the dissappearance of the worlds honey bees. Obviously gives em indigestion!!

Mercurior said...

technically all of the modern fruits, and cereals, and animals are genetically modified, but we did it by trial and error.

broccoli didnt exist 100 years ago, its a cross between a cabbage and a pea.. thats genetic engineering.

now we have the technology to choose what we need in the new foods. they complain. if they want no GM foods, let them goback to the primitive times..

look at dogs.. they originally were wolves.. how did they become so many species.. by breeding out and in needed traits..

Anonymous said...

I thought honey bees were dying because of Varroa mites. But if a plant has been made to be insect resistant it could affect bees. Bees are important to a lot of agricultural industries so I doubt they would be targeted deliberately.

Historical genetic modification was selective breeding. That was used to bring out traits already within a population of a species.

The GM that gets people foaming at the mouth is where genetic material from completely different species are added. I.E. the fluorescent gene from a jellyfish as been added to mice so you get glow in the dark mice. Sounds silly but there is sound science behind it (it's used as a gene marker).

DanyelLawson said...

The GM corn that is out there is actually a designer version. It has a resistance to the herbicide made by the same company that makes the GM corn. It's no coincidence. The herbicide came first. The corn was a solution to the herbicide being too effective on all types of plants. The genetic pesticide is a smoke screen. They are dumping a poison into the environment that is killing off the competition. AKA non-GM everything.

Alex Cull said...

It seems doubtful to me whether any FrankenBeastie concocted by GM scientists will have an impact worse than, say rabbits and cane toads in Australia, or pigs, rats and cats throughout Polynesia.

GM has become another bastion of orthodoxy, much like AGW. Woe to any that tread the path of heresy!

Re your comment at the end: "As for nature: we live in a world that is completely unnatural" - it's possible to turn that statement on its head and say that we are always part of nature, and that anything we do is thus natural. Insects create exoskeletons for themselves out of chitin, rhinos manufacture their horns from keratin, humans use plastic derived from petrochemicals. All natural.

bio-anomoly said...

Everyone seems to studiously miss the point in GE arguments.

We've already used Mutagenesis since the 40's to modify the DNA of thousands of crops. This process exposes 10,000+ seeds to x-rays, neutrons, and chemical mutagens to speed up the natural mutation rate.

This is swept under the carpet by the anti-campaigners, so ironically even the pro side doesn't know. You can't convince people that GE is a threat to the environment if we've been doing worse things for 50 years and have already modified everything around us, and nobody worried about it.

The scary thing is that GE companies might produce benign plants that we come to depend upon.