Monday, February 18, 2013

The craziness of horse DNA

So. Horse burgers. I don't have a problem with eating horse meat, provided that's what I am expecting to eat, and I know it's not containing 'bute or other contaminants. But the way this story has been handled is rather sparse on the details. Some reports tell of "beef" burgers containing 100% horsemeat, but others simply say things like "ZOMG horse DNA found in school meals! THINK OF THE CHILDREN!"

The problem with microbiological techniques that can pick up even traces of DNA is where do you stop? When I worked in agriculture, the tractor drivers* used to have a joke. It went "How do you know when you've run over a rabbit with a combine harvester?" and the answer was "There's a loud BANG and the grain turns briefly red."

I never said it was a good joke...

Anyway, they reckoned that they would average one rabbit per field, and would also get numerous small creatures (field mice, voles, etc) which were too small to be noticed. And that's not even considering all the insects, worms, spiders, nor the rats and mice in the flour mill. Oh, and when doing DNA testing, you have to be awfully careful not to contaminate the samples - you know, gloves, washing surfaces, working in a sterile area to prevent stray flecks of DNA wafting in, etc. Not the sort of environment which would be easy to maintain in an abattoir, I imagine.

So all "vegetarian" food, unless hand-picked by by people adhering to strict Jainist principles (it is Jains who sometimes sweep the floor in front of them to avoid squishing bugs isn't it?), will contain traces of foreign animal DNA and protein. Is that a scandal? Does that mean it's not halal or kosher? I honestly have no idea.

*Oddly, four out of five drivers were called "Dave". I don't know why, but it means to this day if I'm talking to a tractor driver I will call him "Dave". I reckon I have an 80% chance of being right.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A response from my MP!

I had a reply from my MP in response to my letter on equal marriage:

Dear Kathy

Thank you for your letter expressing your support for same sex marriage. I am afraid we will have to agree to disagree.

Along with 174 other MPs I voted against the Second Reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. I had a huge postbag on the issue and the vast majority of constituents who wrote to me were against the Bill.

As the vote showed, I am in a minority and I have no doubt that it will become law.

Yours Sincerely,

Should I write back to him and explain the problems with his data selection method? The contents of a postbag do not necessarily represent the views of a constituency. By limiting communications to a postbag, you've excluded those who have neither the ability or inclination to write. I would hazard that his postbag contains opinions of a greater proportion of elderly (more accustomed to letter-writing than the electronic generation),* retired (have enough free time to spend on this), affluent (can afford to spend time engaging with their MP), literate (probably not dyslexic or poorly-educated) people than the current population. And that's before even considering whether people who object to a change are more inclined to be vocal about it than those who don't. I don't know if any research has been done on this in general, but the impression I got in this case was lots of small lobby groups who opposed the change in the law encouraging supporters to be very vocal, whereas those who supported the change didn't feel the need to do or say anything because they assumed that the change would go ahead regardless. 

*When I told a  cow-orker that I had written to my MP, he laughed and said "You wrote to an MP? How old are you? Seventy?!?"

Sunday, February 3, 2013

A letter to my MP

What with the upcoming vote on gay marriage, I thought I'm email my MP. That way, if the bill isn't passed, then at least I feel that I tried, rather than doing nothing and then feeling miserable for it.

Dear Paul Beresford,

I am writing to you to ask you to support equal marriage. I am aware from your voting record on equal rights for gay, bi- and heterosexual people that you are unlikely to agree with me, but if I don't write then you will never hear the opinions of all your constituents.

I am a Christian and married, and as you have probably gathered, I am firmly in favour of allowing gay marriage. I am not alone in this - all of my Christian friends, regardless of denomination, support equal marriage rights, and we are constantly disheartened when senior clergy fail to represent our beliefs. Passing legislation permitting gay marriage will *not* somehow undermine marriage (consider various Celebs with multiple weddings lasting only a few months, or some of the delightful examples on Wedinator for examples of things which are already permitted), and there is no real biblical objection to gay marriage. Passing legislation permitting gay marriage will however be another step on the long road to seeing my gay friends treated equally and with respect by the rest of society.

Marriage has constantly been redefined to take changing attitudes into account - consider the Married Women’s Property Acts of 1870 and 1882, or the change in the law during 1992 regarding marital rape. I would love to see it redefined so that gay people could be included as well, rather than being forced down the "separate-but-equal" road of Civil Partnerships.

Yours sincerely,


Based on his record, I'm not convinced this will do anything, but I think teaspooning is better than nothing at all.