Reporter 459, 20 November 2000


We should have listened to Lacey

Malcolm Povey
Procter Department of Food Science

I was gratified to see that Professor Lacey, together with his colleague Dr Dealler, finally received the recognition and praise they deserve in Reporter 458. It is worth adding that the Phillips report vindicates our two former colleagues on 13 out of the 14 points they made regarding BSE and human health. If they had been listened to, the lives of many people may have been saved.

For example, Phillips states that Lacey’s warnings about gelatine were ‘subsequently recognised to be cause for concern.’ Phillips says elsewhere in his report that ‘Some matters, such as the safety of gelatine and tallow which were used for a wide range of different purposes, were dealt with only late in the day.’

We may note here the prevalence of gelatine in children’s sweets and pharmaceutical preparations.

Many of us in the know stopped eating beef back in 1988. A joke at the time in the Roslyn Institute was that even the rugby players had given up eating beef! The fashion for deregulation, commercial interests and Government cutbacks no doubt played their part in the spread of BSE. Parents will be concerned that the present Government is testing out opinion on putting beef back onto school dinner menus and are leaving the decision to school governing bodies! This is not encouraging to anyone who expects Government to take a firm stand on public health issues.

I am glad that the University, through the Reporter, hopes to take a little credit for Lacey and Dealler’s courageous stand. However, if the University is to do so, now would be a good time to tell the full story of the University’s role in the affair and for an apology to be given to Lacey. After all, his department of clinical microbiology is no more. If this is not done, then other whistle- blowers will note the consequences likely to accrue to themselves and their departments.

An important lesson is that academia must be independent of industrial patronage and that we academics must have the courage of our convictions. Otherwise, it is hard to see how we can avoid the terrible consequences of some other BSE crisis, let alone this one.

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