17 May 2012

It's Just not the Same

The English language is definitely in danger (and not just from my books and posts). After reading a post on Facebook I decided to gather proof that two acronyms that were used to mean the same thing in the post were actually very different from each other. To my horror even the Oxford dictionary (online at least) seems to have forgotten the original meanings, though it was hard to find the phrases on that site to begin with. As with all the other websites found via Google the two phrases were interchangeable even by Google itself.

The acronyms I speak of are GM and GE (And I’m not talking of General Motors and General Electric). According to the Oxford dictionary GM is “containing genetic material that has been artificially altered so as to produce a desired characteristic” and GE is “the deliberate modification of the characteristics of an organism by manipulating its genetic material.” Depending on your own opinions these two meanings could be different or could be the same as they are both very brief. It all depends on  your own take of what is “artificially altered.” Does it include selective breeding or not?

As far as my memory serves me, when the Abbreviations GM and GE were coined GE was a subset of GM. Genetic Modification was any human modification of any food whether by gene manipulation or selective breeding, whereas GE was only gene manipulation. However as the media got hold of the debate they used GM meaning only GE and after a decade or so the two meanings got so confused that now everyone thinks they are the same thing. But I still stand behind that GM is any modification whether by selective breeding or microscopic engineering and GE is specifically engineering individual genes, so watch out if you cross that line!

Why? Because what are we to call Selective Breeding and other age old techniques which is totally different to the natural state of plants and animals if we cannot isolate GE from GM? They are still human interference and modification of the gene pool. Natural Selection may not be as abrupt and clinical as GE but it is still modification, still unnatural, therefore it is still GM, but it is definitely not GE. You get what I mean? For those purists out there, how can they be assured that their foods have not been manipulated by humans if GM only refers to GE? (That is if there is any organism out there not manipulated in some way.)

Even if you can’t agree with my statement, try it on for a while and you will see why I get upset at Facebook Posts that complain about GM sweet corn.  According to my argument above, all sweet corn is GM, sweet corn was developed by selective breeding to a point where it apparently cannot breed without human intervention (the kernels do not fall off by themselves). This is major manipulation of the original corn’s genetic code, but it is not GE, it was not engineered, only modified. Therefore the post should have been about GE Sweet Corn. If the poster used this acronym, there would be no misunderstanding, everyone would know they were talking about a vegetable that has had its genetic code manipulated by physical intervention of the genes themselves.

Another point, why have two acronyms that mean the same? It makes sense that one would be different to the other in some way.

If you agree, please save the English language from a glut of redundant acronyms and point out to the media, Facebook posters, Anti GE groups, pro GE groups, whoever, there is a difference between GM and GE, use the terms correctly or suffer nasty guilt pains for destroying yet another part of the English language.

Cheers and Blessings