Posted on 25 grudnia Unfortunately, the meeting, held at the European Parliament on the 29th November , showed how unwilling the EC is to follow through on a pledge it made back in In the report, the Commission specifically recognised that the directive was not suitable for holistic traditions, such as Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine TCM. Crucially, it also indicated it would consider the feasibility of an entirely new regulatory framework for such traditions. The meeting was called as a result of concerns voiced through many hundreds of communications sent to MEPs, whose constituents are worried that thousands of herbal products will become illegal from 1 May You could well have been one of those people who contacted their MEP about this flawed Directive — and if you were, congratulations on your efforts that are now forcing the European Commission to answer some difficult questions!
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This feature represents a multidisciplinary journey, one that perhaps raises more questions than it answers. To create or not create. Our suspicion over processes, chemicals or forms of radiation that are not viewed as being natural is perhaps little more than a reflection of our need to impart a sense of responsibility over that which we are accountable.
By definition, we have no control over that which exists independently of humans. Multiple, parallel realities. Multiple universes. Multiple histories. Multiple opportunities. Over 10 dimensions. M-theory, like string theory that preceded it, helps us to better understand reality.
But these theories remind us of the limitation of human perception. These pictures are of course not only conditioned by the environment from which these data have been issued, they are also affected by our individual genetic and epigenetic landscape.
While it might be just as appropriate to use a metaphysical or even spiritual or religious approach to investigate the subject matter, a more broadly scientific approach will be used, if for no other reason that this approach befits the multidisciplinary scientific background of the author. Natural: an anthropocentric concept In the barest of terms, I would like to propose that natural means that which exists without intervention of the human species.
But categorisation between natural and unnatural will often be blurred, given that the extent and type of human intervention will need to be considered.
Humans represent just one of the multiple millions of species—both discovered and yet undiscovered—that exist, or have existed, on planet Earth. Strangely, while we regard the honey made by bees or the cyanide within apple seeds as natural, we might think differently about a toxic green slime made by an extra-terrestrial being.
In some respects, the separation of these, and indeed of all other, scientific disciplines is a form of artificial reductionism used by humans to aid our understanding of complex processes.
It is our limited intelligence that requires such reductionism, and it is reductionism that complicates our perceptions of the extent to which something is natural.
So, while studies of distinct types of atoms and specific combinations of particular atoms in the form of molecules constitutes the foundation of chemistry, the physics of sub-atomic particles can be equally important. The way in which these atoms, and various configurations of bonded atoms as molecules, then interact with the biotic environment can be explained, not only in terms of physics and chemistry, but also in biological terms.
And, as practitioners of the metaphysical would be likely to be among the first to ask, who is to say that these three scientific disciplines, at their current level of development, are sufficient to allow us to understand reality?
With these limitations recognised and appreciated, how might we categorise substances or processes in relation to their naturalness? Should we, for example, regard a chemical molecule that exists naturally in the environment as unnatural if the very same chemical structure is assembled by human beings within a laboratory?
It probably makes sense to do so, as any form of sub-categorisation tells us additional information about the origins of a substance that would otherwise be lacking. And what if a naturally occurring microorganism is forced to metabolise nature-identical substances in a laboratory, producing metabolites or by-products not normally found in the natural environment?
For the reason given above—it probably makes sense. Perfectly white cut apple The same rationale can be applied to an F1 hybrid of dahlia that you may have cultivated in your garden. But if growers are ready with their arsenal of agro-chemicals, why should they be concerned with the peroxidase content? Physics In relation to our interaction with outer space, gamma rays exist naturally, being part of the cosmic radiation background to which we are exposed.
We many not be able to explain every nuance and mechanism responsible for their generation, type or direction, but we think of background gamma radiation as a form of natural radiation precisely because it is not the result of our intervention. Humans had worked hard to find ways of harnessing the radiant energy of specific types of atom.
They did this within the confines of human-engineered nuclear devices. Since demonstrating the remarkable power that can be released from an atom of hydrogen, humans have continued to wield this power over their enemies as a deterrent. But this very same power, propagated through an expanding population of nuclear fission reactors, has also been harnessed to generate electricity.
We think of these two contrasting applications as unnatural because they occur as a result of our meddling with the laws of nature. The gamma radiation that kills, maims or generates electricity occurs naturally, but neither its application nor its level of exposure to human beings—to our knowledge—occurs in the natural world.
Yet we feel comfortable describing the similar nuclear fission reactions as natural when they occur without any input from our species, whether this is within our own or adjacent galaxies, or perhaps, as some scientists believe, within the molten core of our planet. Such a framework which characterises the quality and quantity of our exposure to specific elements within our environment serves a useful purpose when examining the human health consequences of particular technologies.
Humans have produced a plethora of sources of these forms of radiation and the resulting exposures dramatically exceed natural background levels. Even today, chemists will admit there are more elements to be discovered, especially beyond our own planet, or as a result of nuclear experimentation. To-date, some elements have been identified, and of these 94 are thought to be naturally-occurring, even though they might only exist in miniscule amounts or be short-lived.
Around 80 elements are considered stable in their solid, liquid, or gaseous forms. The last of these to be discovered was francium—in These are naturally-occurring products of radioactive decay.
Plutonium or uranium, produced following neutron capture within naturally-occurring uranium, are examples of such trace radioisotopes. Periodic table There is however one more category of elements in our current version of the periodic table. These are thought to be so unstable that, even if they were formed during the creation of our solar system, they have long since decayed.
We consider these elements to be synthetic because they have only been found as products of experiments using nuclear reactors or particle accelerators. Rutherfordium, hassium and copernicium are examples of synthetic elements. Other elements have yet to be discovered or produced. Following WWII, a massive explosion of organic chemistry occurred.
This chemistry, characterised by the reaction of different elements, in different states, together with the single element carbon, provided much of the impetus for the chemical, agro-chemical and pharmaceutical industry. It allowed corporations to expand at an unprecedented rate, this capitalisation being based on the production of unique carbon-based chemical structures which could then be patented. Naturally-occurring molecules cannot be patented as their pre-existence in our natural environment precludes novelty which is required to successfully obtain a patent.
At the heart of the debate over what is a natural molecule, is of course, not just the origin of the elements that comprise the molecule, but the existence of the chemical in the absence of any manipulation by human beings. Biology In evaluating what is constitutes a natural chemical, we should now move to the interface that divides chemistry and biology.
It is both incorrect and overly simplistic to argue that natural chemicals are safer to humans than artificially created ones. Many of these are ingested in our food, especially in plant-based foods.
For most of us, our ingestion of food represents our most intimate exposure to the chemical world around us. Among the natural plant-based chemicals that are most protective against cancer, are actually those that are also toxic to insects, fungi or bacteria that seek to use those plants as a food source.
The glucosinolates within brassica vegetables are good examples of this. So while such phytochemicals may indeed be toxic at high doses, their absence from our diet may be associated with an increased risk of disease. Traditional Chinese Medicine Some of the most valuable herbal medicines have similar characteristics.
Ancient herbal medicine traditions, such as Ayurveda from the Indian subcontinent and traditional Chinese medicine, were first documented over 4, years.
But this documentation does not represent the first usage of plants for medical purposes. Plant medicine was likely well established in hominids many thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of years prior to this. This is supported by the fact that closely related primates such as chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans are all accomplished users of plant medicines. It follows therefore that herbal medicine may have preceded the evolution of our species.
Ingested in the right amounts, the products of particular plant parts, as well as their specific combination, can help support the proper functioning of metabolic processes within our bodies. Most simply, they can promote homeostasis. Used incorrectly however, as with any toxic material, they can cause harm. More exposure time means more adaptation time. Time is not only required to evolve ways of making particular chemicals less dangerous, time also offers the opportunity of enabling our bodies to utilise the beneficial properties of plants and other chemical constituents of our food.
Since life on our planet first emerged, probably a billion or more years ago, up until recently, an intricate dance between living things and non-living things has played out. In essence, this dance has existed between the biotic and abiotic natural world. The unnatural, human-created world only emerged in earnest following the Industrial Revolution of the s. But the extent and nature of human interference in natural processes has catapulted forward dramatically in the last half century.
In human evolutionary terms, 50 years is but the blink of an eye. It represents less than 9 seconds of a hour clock depicting the possible , year evolution of our species. Such a train of logic leads us of course to the subset of biology that we refer to as genetics. Life is coded by a series of chemicals arranged in highly specific ways.
Our uniqueness can be explained genetically by understanding the precise arrangement of these chemicals to create a particular type of information. The information is in turn held within our DNA deoxyribonucleic acid within the sequence of pieces of DNA that we call genes.
The Human Genome Project, as of , informed us that all of the variation within our species is coded for by around 20, genes. These genes in turn express some , or so different polypeptides, enzymes and proteins, produced through the transcription of messenger RNA mRNA.
Genetic material can be exchanged among species, or, sometimes, other closely related organisms. We therefore believe that there are preset, natural rules which govern the exchange of genetic material from the germline cells gametes of one organism to another.
We think of this kind of genetic exchange as natural. It is the disruption of these natural genetic rules that makes so many people question the wisdom of genetic engineering. Many are suspicious of the technology even without any awareness of scientific evidence of its harm to humans, other animals or other elements of the environment. Genetic manipulation—the domain of biotechnology—can therefore be seen to be responsible for products which can no longer be regarded as natural.
Neither the method of gene insertion, nor the occurrence of the foreign genes expressing the specific trait, are able to occur without manipulation by humans. It is the breach of the natural laws governing genetic exchange that provides such grounds for concern among those apprehensive about the human health and environmental risks associated with outdoor release of genetically-modified organisms GMOs.
MON While plant or animal breeding programmes also lead to genetic combinations that would not normally occur in nature, the processes that actually govern genetic exchange in such programmes still work within the parameters of the laws of nature. Like with chemicals, the precise way by which humans manipulate genetic material raises further questions over how natural a given organism might be. Simple binary logic, in which something is natural or not, just make way for a continuum which tells us something about the extent of its naturalness.
A chemical or radiation source might be natural, but is its existence, form, type or level of exposure within the ranges we might expect if humans had not intervened in any way? Alternatively, the process by which a substance, entity or organism is produced might be natural or unnatural.
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