‘Once bitten forever smitten’

As an expert on health scares – it was here you read the population of the UK is clinically obese in its entirety and enormity, and the problem is getting worse, and that smoking causes all diseases, physical, social and moral, including those as yet unknown and unsuffered – I have been asked to give the true facts about genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

From my bulging postbag – delivered to my door with much wheezing by a clinically obese postperson whose chronically cardio-vascularly irradiated cheeks daily bring a red, cheery, and welcome warmth to the frosted morning air of late winter – I have chosen a sample of questions which are representative of the whole.

What is genetic engineering?

The alteration of the characteristics of an organism by direct manipulation of its genes. Normally the sort of thing you might expect to see only after the watershed and with subtitles in Swedish. However, when it is performed in laboratory conditions by men and women modestly attired in white coats it’s okay.

Why is it done?

Difficult one, this. Usually it is practised for mutual pleasure, but, since the recipients are often root vegetables, it is difficult to measure their responses. However, Prince Charles, one of the very few people in this country who is fluent in turnipese, is wholly opposed to genetic farming. So perhaps the crops feel they are being used as objects, and resent it.

Why are crops treated in this way known as Frankenstein foods?

This is a reference to Dr Ernst Frankenstein, a German biochemist, who in the Thirties conducted a series of experiments in implanting the genes of reformed criminals into tropical fruit. Eventually, amid much acclaim, he succeeded in producing a banana that is going straight.

Why is there so much concern about genetically modified foods?

Certain experiments purport to show rats suffered a reduction in brain size, liver damage and a weakening of immune systems after being fed genetically modified potatoes for just ten days.

Why then, is the Government so keen to encourage GMF?

All of politics is a matter of checks and balances, of assessing competing advantages and disadvantages. In a parliamentary democracy such as ours, in which governments must submit themselves to the will of the people every five years, the benefits to an incumbent administration of an electorate whose brains are diminishing in size by the day clearly outweighs a little local liver damage.

But this government is always telling us that it is concerned about the nation’s health.

And so it is. It is a happy feature of human anatomy and physiology that our brains are much larger and heavier than those of most other animals. If the genetically modified King Edward, or King Priscilla to give it its proper post-operative name, does indeed shrink the brain, it will at stroke assist the government’s drive to make us weigh less.

How long have we been eating GMFs?

For several years. These days you can’t find a natural soya bean for love nor money, not that you’d want to, and GM soya is in just about everything we eat and drink, including beer and old favourites such as salt and vinegar flavour nut truffle cheesy dips with marshmallow coating – “once bitten, forever smitten”, though with what it’s difficult to say in the absence of more research.

Are there any obvious ill effects?

The Spice Girls and Edwina Currie are two that spring to mind. Also, five scientists at Zeneca Plant Science at Bracknell who describe themselves as human guinea pigs – which, in this DNA-ridden context, is better not looked into more closely – have been eating GM tomatoes for years and say they never felt better. However, it is noticeable that all five wear glasses, so there may, after all, be something in Baden-Powell’s warning about the effects of solitary manipulation of the genes.

I read somewhere that genetically modified crops can blow in the wind with unknown consequences. Is this true?

I am afraid it is. Borne on a breezy gust, the pollen of a doctored carrot is easily carried for miles and may be inhaled by a far-distant nostril, possibly yours.

How will I know if that has happened?

Unfortunately the symptoms are so many and varied it is difficult to answer. However, should you be able to see in the dark six luminous fingers on each of your own three hands, something has gone wrong.

Wouldn’t it be better if we put a stop to the production of GMF until we knew more about it?

In an ideal world, yes. But there is no stopping the march of science. In any case, Britain is powerless to act unilaterally. We are part of the European Union now and other member states are keen to press ahead with the launch of the Euro-marrow by the year 2000.

Isn’t all this meddling with what we eat deeply unnatural?

What is natural? Is Tony Blair’s smile natural? Was it the intention of Nature that we should ride bicycles, fly in aircraft, watch television, or buy books written by Roy Hattersley? We are what we eat, and if progress dictates that runner beans be genetically modified to slow down to a walk, who are we to stand in their way?

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