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 sacks full 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.