Tuesday, 7 February 2017

08:24 – It was 48F (9C) when I took Colin out this morning.

What is it about women and GMO’s? It’s as though many of them consider GMO’s to be poisonous, which of course there’s absolutely no scientific evidence to support.

If you visit prepping sites that discuss food storage, you’ll find that many, perhaps most, of them that are run by women who treat GMO food as something to be avoided at all costs. It’s “unhealthy” or so they apparently believe. Conversely, you’ll seldom encounter such a site run by a man that even mentions GMO’s, let alone demonizes them.

What they ignore, of course, is the fact that, with minor exceptions like wild-caught fish and wild game, nearly all of what we all eat is genetically modified in some sense. Humans have been raising crops and livestock for more than 10,000 years, and they’ve been genetically modifying those organisms the whole time. Initially by selective breeding, and more recently by direct intervention at the cell level.

For example, ancient Rome could not have become what it did without GM wheat. Few people realize that until the time of Caesar Augustus, Romans subsisted largely on emmer, a primitive natural form of wheat that was not suited to growing on the Italian latifundia and later the North African grain belts. It was only the introduction of more modern wheat that allowed the population of Rome to explode as it did.

In fact, the invention of genetic modification by selective breeding of crops and livestock is what ultimately allowed the development of the modern world. People have to eat, and without selective breeding to greatly increase production, there would not have been enough food to support cities, let alone metropolises like Rome became. People would still be living in mud huts and scratching out a living from the soil.

Now, there are obviously different types and degrees of genetic modification, some of which most people consider more “natural” than others. Almost no one nowadays would take issue with selective breeding, but many draw the line there. For some reason, many people are bothered by the idea of a human manually transferring genes from, say, one breed of tomato to another to optimize the characteristics of that tomato for human use. What you end up with, of course, is just a tomato. A tomato that has somewhat different characteristics, certainly, but still just a tomato. And there’s no reasonable basis for assuming that that new form of tomato may be any less nutritious or any less healthy to eat than the older forms of tomato.

Even more people object to the most recent form of genetic modification, which involves transferring genes from one species to an entirely different species. It’s unnatural, they say. Of course, it’s actually completely natural. Nature does it all the time via a mechanism called horizontal gene transfer. Yes, the resulting organism is a “monster” using the strict definition of that word as something that never before existed in nature, at least if you squint your eyes and ignore the fact that “nature” does it all the time.

But even the most anti-GMO people happily use the products of some of these monsters without thinking twice about it. If they or family members are insulin-dependent diabetics, for example, of course they use insulin that is produced by GMO monsters. Until 1978, when the first genetically-engineered E. coli bacteria were produced that included the gene to allow them to produce human insulin, diabetics depended on insulin isolated from livestock pancreata, all of which has slightly different amino acid sequences than human insulin. It worked, usually, but how much better is it to have access to actual human insulin without having to kill healthy people to reclaim their insulin?

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 I wonder if any students read Kipling nowadays. More than 50 years, in 7th-grade English class, I read his Gods of the Copybook Headings. I wonder if anyone today who’s not at least 60 even knows what Copybook Headings are. The final stanza has always stayed with me:

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins

When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,

As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,

The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

When Kipling wrote that poem nearly 100 years ago, nearly everyone knew exactly what he was talking about. Copybook Headings were aphorisms and rules for living. Each was printed at the top of a page in a student’s copybook, what today we’d call a notebook. Students mastered handwriting by copying these aphorisms over and over, until each page was filled with their copies. As they copied these headings over and over, they were perforce required to think about what they were writing.

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