Reporter 460, 4 December 2000


Letters

Debate urged after tragedy of BSE

Lionel Cliffe
Institute of Politics and International Studies

Like Malcolm Povey of Food Sciences, I too welcomed the belated recognition given to Professor Richard Lacey’s work on the BSE issue that you gave in Reporter 458.

I am also at one with him in wanting to see a broad debate so academia as a whole can learn some of the lessons from this grave and tragic episode.

His call for the ‘full story of the University’s role in the affair’ is also timely.

However, in searching your columns another side to that story came to light. In a letter to the Reporter 314 (13 July 1990), the ‘academic staff of the Deptartment of Animal Physiology & Nutrition’ said Professor Lacey’s submissions to the House of Commons Select Committee on Agriculture (advice that was completely ignored, of course) was in fact "an embarassment to us as agricultural scientists and as members of the University of Leeds".

They went on to challenge his right to speak as a specialist on the matter as his field was clinical microbiology.

It would be interesting to see, in light of the Philips Report on BSE and the tragedies of new version CJD deaths, what the views are of those academic staff or their institutional descendants about Professor Lacey’s contribution.

Two very basic issues that academia and Leeds ought to take on board are in fact brought up in that letter of the 1990s.

First, is that the ‘professional’ concern for people sticking to their intellectual disciplines contributed to delays in dealing with the fundamental issue at stake in the BSE story: whether BSE could jump the species barrier and posed a health risk to humans. The answer to that question would inevitably mean exploring the interface between ‘agricultural science’ and ‘clinical biology’, not by scientists sticking within those boundaries.

The second lesson to be learned was brought home to me several years ago by Richard Lacey.

He stated that the decision about what to DO about the situation while it was still not unambiguously settled by the scientists, was not a scientific matter but an issue of morality and politics.

It is only now beginning to be recognised that policy responses to risk should be considered in light of a ‘precautionary principle’. In this area too there is a crying need for a discourse between science, social science and humanities in this university.

Land use and food production

J M Forbes
School of Biology

I was struck by the high proportion of material concerning food, agriculture and land use in issue 458 of the Reporter (November 6 2000).

There were articles on iron toxicity for rice (Physics), nematode-resistant potatoes (Biology), rural landlord/tenant relationships in Egypt (African Studies), forestry and other rural projects in China (East Asian Studies), BSE (Microbiology), food risks (Business Studies) and rotting straw (Biology).

Of course, there are lots more research groups in the University with active interests relevant to land use and food production.

LIBA (Leeds Institute of Biotechnology and Agriculture, based in the Faculty of Biological Sciences) was formed two years ago to foster collaboration between basic and applied scientists and others, and would like to establish and maintain contact with all those in the University with interests in soils, plants, animals and food.

We have weekly seminars and are always interested to hear about activities relevant to these interests.

Of particular concern is the need to collaborate with colleagues in other disciplines to optimise the University’s research income!

Let us know how you would like to interact with us. j.m.forbes@leeds.ac.uk; ext 3066

Garlands for gallery display

Dr Paul E Firmin
Institute for Transport Studies

I feel I must put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to congratulate the Leeds University Art Gallery on a most superb recent showing of works by the female artist Valentine Dobrée (1894-1974).

The exquisite collection of cubist paintings and surrealist collages on display were of a calibre seldom seen outside London and Dr Hilary Diaper the gallery keeper should be applauded for having the foresight to organise an exhibition of this nature.

I would also like to thank the Reporter for notifying me of the exhibition in the first place, long may you continue to support the gallery with much needed publicity. Art, and in particular modern art, needs to be brought to a larger audience and it saddens me that many persons working and studying within the University may be blissfully unaware that a gallery even exists. Check it out, it’s in the Parkinson Building.

In my opinion the gallery should be expanded – especially so that it may continue to display thought provoking and mentally challenging art for the benefit of all who work and study at, or visit the University. Art is part of our collective culture and that’s something worth cultivating. We are lucky to have such a facility available to us on campus, so please make use of it.

Keep in touch!

Joan Arnold
Retired from the Validation Office

I would like to thank you for all your kind thoughts and good wishes. I thoroughly enjoyed my last day at work and know just how much organisation went into ‘my day’.

The University has been part of my life for 30 years and I miss people – but I now have a computer installed and it’s great to feel that I am in touch again email joan.arnold@btinternet.com

I send my very best wishes to all. Thanks again!

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