Scotland is banning GM crops. What is it thinking?

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News comes today that Scotland is to ban GM crops. The SNP defends it thus:

‘There is no evidence of significant demand for GM products by Scottish consumers and I am concerned that allowing GM crops to be grown in Scotland would damage our clean and green brand, thereby gambling with the future of our £14bn food and drink sector.

‘Scottish food and drink is valued at home and abroad for its natural, high quality which often attracts a premium price, and I have heard directly from food and drink producers in other countries that are ditching GM because of a consumer backlash.’

Here apparently is something deemed natural.

Killing a cow; chopping it up into little pieces; freezing it, thawing, it, shipping it by boat, truck and train; wrapping it in plastic; placing it on a plane to China or anywhere else willing to exchange pandas for food; frying it by burning a gas you have taken out of the ground, a gas which is the fossil remains of plants which died millions of years ago, a gas which is transported over continent sprawling pipelines.

This cow itself is the result of thousands of years of artificial selection. Its genes are not its ancestors genes. We have domesticated the cow, it is our slave. Its only purpose, its “natural” purpose, is to provide protein, fat and carbohydrates for humans.

On the other hand, moving a few genes from one animal to another, this is unnatural, whatever that means. It must therefore be banned. Furthermore, we must invoke the precauationary principle to give irrational impulse the veneer of legal dogma. Perhaps we need an additional principle: the absolute lack of scientific evidence of harm should not be used as a reason to not invoke the precautionary principle.

The ongoing fetishisation of the natural is nothing more than unthinking misanthropy. When you walk into a good restaurant what you eat is not natural, it is the result of thousands of years of human creativity, ingenuity and innovation.

The words “natural food”, much like the words “traditional food”, should not confer an element of quality. Quite the opposite. The good qualities of food come because humans have improved on nature.

Human innovation in food must not be stopped by a few irrational environmentalists, no matter how well meaning they may be. We have spent thousands of years improving upon the genetic qualities, the “natural” genetic quality, of crops and animals. This has been a necessary part of human progress.

A planet of seven billion people could not get by with “natural” foods. The “natural” crops of thousands of years ago had such low yields that we would all starve if we returned to this nirvana state where human innovation had not improved upon nature. It is time we praised the benefits of unnatural food and denigrated those of natural food.


4 thoughts on “Scotland is banning GM crops. What is it thinking?

    Mark Brinkley @slopingsite said:
    August 9, 2015 at 1:17 pm

    I thought you’d turned comments “off”.


      Robert Wilson said:
      August 9, 2015 at 1:57 pm


      Gremlins in the machine or something. I wrote this using an old draft in WordPress I had about something else, so it probably picked up the settings.

      Or should I keep the comments open? Maybe I’ll keep them open for some posts, but not others.

      At the minute I’m trying to write a post a day. But my dayjob workload is quite high. And I really need to get as many papers written up by the end of the year as possible as I’ll be looking for a postdoc to start in January or so. Reading and moderating comments takes up too much time.

      In fact I might pack in the blogging totally for a few months. We’ll see.


    3d said:
    August 10, 2015 at 3:03 am

    NassimTaleb has released a paper recommending severe limits on GMOs. Tweeting on same.


      Robert Wilson said:
      August 10, 2015 at 1:15 pm


      Having read it I can inform you that the paper is little more than the pseudo-scientific outpourings of a man whose understanding of biology extends to what he has attained from watching badly made science fiction movies.


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