I noted a couple of days ago now that the ‘campaigners’ are up in arms because cloned meat has been sanctioned for sale and consumption by the Food Standards Agency’s chief scientist, Andrew Wadge. Milk from cloned dairy cows is also on sale on supermarket shelves.
Wadge made his statement based on the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes’ conclusion that cloned food products are safe for human consumption. Actually the decision is based on food products from cloned animals and their offspring.
By and large it would appear that ‘campaigners’ of one sort and/or another tend to be a tad hysterical and are often driven by conspiracy theories that lay blame at the feet of those capitalist companies, individuals and governments that make money.
So nothing has changed. Except the burgeoning number of newspaper articles as journalists scramble to create as much controversy as they possibly can over what is perceived as controversial.
This issue poked its head up during August when some offspring from US cloned cattle embryos that had been imported into the UK ended up on supermarket shelves. No recording traces had been kept on those offspring and the outcry that ensued was loud but short-lived as I would imagine this one will also be.
There are a couple of reality checks that need to be applied here:
Biological and genetic science is fairly easily monitored. Public Health and Food Safety may not be exact sciences but both disciplines have come a mighty long way in the past century.
Cows (and other animals) born from cloned embryos and bananas grown from tissue-cultured stock are products of the same process. Each method – cloned reproduction in the case of animals and vegetative propagation in the case of plants produces exact clones of the parent tissue.
As bananas go, and you buy them every day in the green grocer’s shop, you can’t get a better, more technically perfect piece of fruit (just ask Ray Comfort!!). It has been suggested that I link to Ray Comfort’s video on youtube in case readers haven’t come across this creationist kook before.
Meat and milk products from animals produced by cloning represent greater homogeneity and therefore greater control over non-diseased and as clean food that you can reasonably expect.
Tissue culture as a method of propagation in the plant world produces exact clones of parent plants with desirable qualities. Here: have a quick read of good ol’ Wikipedia on tissue culture.
At what point do those of the ‘natural foodstuffs only’ brigade who call vociferously for sustainable agriculture on a realistic grand scale start to realistically address the feeding of the world’s population. A lot of this population lives on the margins of agriculturally viable land and are poorly fed. Malnourishment is rife.
Agriculturalists, governments and world health authorities are trying to provide nutritious food for a burgeoning global population. Some of the most abundant food available is the least nutritious and GM is addressing the rectification of this problem.
They are attempting to produce GM engineered staple food stuffs as intensively as possible because of the subsuming of good agricultural land by that same burgeoning population for residential purposes. Cities and towns tend to grow up around waterways, on coasts and around river deltas into which waterways spill and pollution becomes concentrated. As agriculturally viable land, such areas become less able to produce food.
Let’s rewind a few thousand years before science and GM. What did we eat and how did we determine what to eat? Our evolutionary history gave us the tools whereby we knew what to eat. If it was good, we ate more. If it wasn’t we didn’t eat it or if we did, we didn’t reproduce and we died. Good way to learn.
As the meerkat says: Seemples.
I will be accused of being simplistic. Today, we are arguing about only what minor detrimental effect GM or tissue-cultured foods may have on our short term health. Maybe there will be possibly long term cumulative effects on human health.
Nowadays we have the likes of Pam Ronald (a Plant Pathologist) and her research. Her blog Tomorrow’s Table is a wealth of information.
In the face of ever increasing global population and decreasing resources, long term effects are irrelevant.
The same basic evolutionarily derived rule of taste equalling good and bad taste equalling bad, therefore reject still applies.
Some commenter on one of the newspaper articles linked to snidely tried to tie BSE and Wadge together in an attempt to disparage and discredit him in his professional position. It is a straw man argument. Erecting the straw man of BSE distracts from the discussion (I don’t think there is a meaningful discussion to be had anyway) and is totally irrelevant to the question.
If disaster befalls us and I am forced to eat a fellow human being, I will be an equal opportunity consumer and not distinguish between anti GM and GM supporters as I am certain they will both taste equally well and perform the function of nourishment thereby keeping me alive at least in the short term which will be all I can expect in an uncertain world.