It’s not natural! Intensive farming, synthetic food and synthetic genes

Is it natural? Whatever ‘it’ might be. We live in a world where genes are synthesised routinely and synthetic food isn’t far away. I don’t think there’s much point even asking about ‘natural’ any more.

The US Supreme Court has ruled on genetic patents . I’ve been part of a discussion about genetically modified (GM, genetically engineered, GE) organisms in cheese making. Discussion about GM in Europe is hot news. Concern grows about intensive livestock production and synthetic meat is being developed.

In discussions like these (see the tags I’m putting on this post) people quite often say that they’re concerned about whether something is ‘natural’. That means a lot to people, emotionally, which is fair enough. But here’s a reality check. If you’re doing biology in a lab, you can order synthetic genes. If the proteins they encode turn out to be useful, you can patent the genes you’ve invented.

Whether or not ‘it’s natural’ doesn’t seem very important now. After all, if we were living ‘natural’ lives we might never have invented the wheel. It’s natural for humans to invent things, whether that’s the wheel, the intensive farm or the GM crop. Whether we use those things, or how we use them, are decisions for us. That’s where the feelings come in alongside the thoughts.


About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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1 Response to It’s not natural! Intensive farming, synthetic food and synthetic genes

  1. Pingback: What Is “Natural”? | Science on the Land

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