"I don't think anything that's natural can be bad for you,” Gwyneth Paltrow" 

Flour is in short supply, because, according to the Washington Post, we’re all finding solace and distance by baking for our families. Gluten be damned. In times of trouble, we want bread. It is a national pastime, baseball no longer available, to imagine how we will change as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is natural to try to predict the future, but an interesting question will be our future relationship to nature.  

It’s probably pretty easy to predict that we’ll wash our hands more and have in-person meetings less, but more challenging will be to predict how we’ll change our eating and cooking habits. No brand has been more valuable than nature’s own. All-natural ingredients. Naturally grown. The ubiquitous butterfly, guaranteeing that the food inside the box isn’t genetically engineered. We pay a premium for simplicity, for nostalgia, and sometimes, for nothing at all. Will that remain the same in any post-COVID future, nature having emphatically reminded us that she isn’t always benign?  To put it baldly, nature is trying to kill us.

Certainly, we’ve forgotten our fascination with nature for the time being. Before the shutdown, I went to a big box store for cleaning supplies. Soap was gone, bleach wipes were gone, in fact nothing containing bleach could be found in the cleaning aisle. Only one shelf in the cleaning section was well stocked. When death lurks, cleaners based on “natural ingredients” are a hard sell. 

There are as many different sects in the all-natural movement as kinds of Baptists. For example, some measurable percentage of the population, many of whom live near a Whole Foods store, don't believe in vaccinations. We’re starting to see the results of that belief in outbreaks of Measles, a totally natural disease, which, when it comes to its ability to spread, makes COVID-19 look like a piker. 

We’ll need a large part of the population to be vaccinated, when and if a COVID-19 vaccine is available, because none of us have any natural immunity. In fact, some epidemiologists speculate that up to 90% of a population will need to be vaccinated to provide herd immunity.  Will the anti-vax movement relent for COVID-19, or is their opposition to science immune to a pandemic? It will be interesting to see how many people consent to be vaccinated. Governments are quite likely to require vaccination when one becomes available.    

Another considerably larger sect in the Church of Nature Knows Best are those who worry about the health and spiritual risks of genetic manipulation.  To add some spice to the vaccination argument, there is at least some chance that any eventual vaccine will be produced using genetically-altered plants and “biopharming.”  

It’s hard to think of anything less natural than tobacco plants growing life-saving drugs, but, as the Statler Brothers taught us long ago, “life gets complicated when you get past 16.”  

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former head of the Food and Drug Administration, recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal about some anti-viral drugs in testing that offer at least some hope for treating the disease. Although the words genetic engineering never appear in the article, the term recombinant technology does. Clever, that.

Imagine a world where we all depend on plants developed with genetic engineering to grow vaccines necessary to protect us from a civilization threatening disease, where the medicines that save our lives are developed in labs by scientists using the very latest technology, where new and complicated and hard to understand techniques are saving millions of lives and are allowing not only healthy lives but a functioning and growing economy. 

In a place and time like that, will consumers care that soybeans seeds are developed using the same techniques as the very medicine that gives them life?

Yes, they probably will.  But a more rational world is fun to think about.

About the author: Blake Hurst is a third-generation farmer and president of the Missouri Farm Bureau board of directors.