Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Dolly's Man says the Milk's ok

📥  Comment

Wednesday's Telegraph carried two short pieces on the cloned beef / milk debate from Lord Peter Melchett, the Soil Association's Policy Director, and Professor Sir Ian Wilmut, the creator of Dolly the sheep.   Whilst both seem to agree that there are significant animal welfare issues inherent to cloning, they are wide apart on what research says about food safety issues.  Wilmut writes:

"... In order to make their assessment of the safety of food from cloned animals the U.S. regulatory agency, the Food and Drug Administration, completed a detailed analysis of all of the cloned animals born in the USA before the time of their study in 2007.  Detailed independent analyses were made of the composition of milk and meat from cloned animals and their offspring.  These measurements in clones were compared with measurement from genetically very similar animals raised on the same farms. They also took note of all of the relevant information available from other countries.  After extensive analyses, they concluded that they could find no difference between healthy cloned animals and genetically similar animals produced by normal reproduction.  ..."

He concludes:

"... This evidence, combined with our understanding about the basic biology of cloning, would support the conclusion that food from clones or their offspring is safe to eat.  ..."

Melchett, however, writes:

"... For human health, no evidence of danger is not the same as safe.  There’s been no long term safety testing of meat or milk from cloned cattle – if business interests get their way, there never will be.  ..."

This enthusiasm for research is to be welcomed.  But does it mean that the Soil Association will now be supporting (funding, even) independent studies into the safety of food from cloned animals?   I wonder.


Just like some seminars I go to ...

📥  Comment

Browsing the New York Times, as you do, led me to a paperOn the Origin of Gravity and the Laws of Newton" by Erik Verlinde, a string theorist and professor of physics at the University of Amsterdam, in which he argues that gravity is a consequence of the laws of thermodynamics.  Inevitably, this is controversial, with another string theorist noting: "Some people have said it can’t be right, others that it’s right and we already knew it – some that it’s right and profound – and some more that it's right but trivial" which about covers the bases, and reminds me about some of the ideas that I hear talked about.  Commenting on a seminar where the paper was presented, the moderator said: "The end result was that everyone else didn’t understand it, including people who initially thought that it did make some sense to them.'  Just like some of the seminars I go to.


Send in the Clones

📥  Comment

According to the Telegraph, Britain's food safety watchdog has admitted it doesn't know how many cloned embryos have entered Britain after meat produced from cloned cows ended up in food. Tim Smith, chief executive of the Food Standards Agency, is reported as saying it is unsure if any other cloned embryos had been imported.

As Sondheim almost noted in his enigmatic lyric from A Little Night Music:
Don't you love farce?
No one's fault I fear.
I thought that you'd want what I want.
Sorry, my dear.
But where are the clones?
Quick, send in the clones.
Don't bother, they're here.

Time, once more for all UK burger and pie eaters to worry.  None of this would have happened if OFSCOFF had been given responsibility.

Small Beer

📥  Comment

The fifth Sustainable Development Commission Watchdog report finds that "sustainability measures are saving Government £60-70 million every year."            That's about £1 each.

Meanwhile, the accumulated public debt is already over £900 billion, and continuing to rise.         That's about £15,000 each.

So, not much scope for sustainability to get us out of the mess – unless I'm missing something ...


The quality of strawberry jam, if not strained ...

📥  News and Updates

It is not widely known, but the last government launched another new quango before it mis-managed its own re-election.  This was the Office for Strictures and Controll on Food and Fodder  – OFSCOFF.   As befits an era of austerity, Ofscoff's remit is to establish minimum food standards for animals and people, and make sure that these are not exceeded.

It most certainly would have approved of the anaemic red jelly that I came across in Warwickshire last week which was being passed off as strawberry jam, but not, I suspect, of the label of an almost equally sad example in Cumbria whose legend "extra fruity" would surely have promised far too much for an organisation hell bent on limiting expectations.

As I have been given access to some of Ofscoff's pre-launch thinking by a whistle-blower, expect more revelations over the next month.


Not really sustainable after all

📥  Comment

Defra announced yesterday that it is to stop funding the Sustainable Development Commission [SDC] from next April.   The Secretary of State's written notice says:

On sustainability ... we are determined to play the lead role across the whole of government. We will mainstream sustainability, strengthen the government’s performance in this area and put processes in place to join up activity across government much more effectively. I am not willing simply to delegate this responsibility to an external body.


"Focusing responsibility for sustainable development policy within Defra will improve accountability, avoid duplication and lead to essential efficiencies."

Put another way: we don't want any more advice from outsider experts, thanks all the same.

Well, fittingly, and as we all know, want and need are two quite different things.

Jury Service in Barcelona

📥  News and Updates

In Barcelona last week sitting on a PhD jury – one of these public defences that are literally and metaphorically foreign to the UK.  The thesis was in Catalan with a presentation to an audience of about 35 in that language, with Spanish and English interludes.  I had read a 50 page English summary of the thesis, and was familiar with the research over a 6 year involvement between Bath and the Catalan university.  When the candidate had finished his 50 minute presentation, and his supervisors had had a say (a novel twist, I thought), we three jurists had ours.  I spoke about the international context of the research and its potential contribution.  The last to speak (in Catalan) was the president of the jury, and I had a translator whispering in my ear.  I thought the learned and venerable professor was making some quite critical points to do with neglected literature, omitted data, and un-nuanced argument, etc, and so I kept asking my interpreter: "Is that a critical point?"   "Yes", she'd always respond, "but not a negative one."   Oh, I thought, and where do you draw that line?

In the end, we graded it "Excellent cum laude", everyone was happy, and cava was splashed about.  Later, I asked another venerable and learned professor, this time someone whom I had known for a while, what was all the critical but not negative stuff from the president of the jury: "Just showing off" they said; "illustrating how clever they are and how little the candidate really knows."   Experience suggests that this a tendency also found here, but in Barcelona, on that occasion at least, it wasn't allowed to get in the way of the outcome.

MoD to set up Defence Awareness Programmes in Schools

📥  News and Updates

The coalition government announced today that, from 2011, the Ministry of Defence is to set up programmes in order to raise awareness of defence issues within the UK; this will include work in schools.   An MoD representative said "We recognise the importance of ensuring that the public is informed about defence matters and consider that schools play a vital role in this endeavour."  She went on: "Of course, as always, it is critical that the projects the MoD funds demonstrate results and impact.  The use of funds for defence awareness will be scrutinised very closely and we will be tightening our annual review processes.  Projects which are failing to meet their objectives, or projects which are not demonstrating that their activities are achieving higher levels of public awareness/support for defence will be closed."

Bye Bye BSF

📥  Comment

So, at last some sense in the disasterous Building Schools for the Future programme – it's being axed.   Michael Gove told MPs: "Throughout its life it has been characterised by massive overspends, tragic delays, botched construction projects and needless bureaucracy".  He might (and should) have added, mostly to mediocre sustainability standards.  So, a pause for thought must be good for everybody: a chance to ensure that the very, VERY highest sustainability standards are enforced (and not an option to be easily abandoned), and a chance to ensure that the damn things don't have to be torn down after 30 years.  Well done MG.


The Organic Garden Educator's Dilemma

📥  Comment

You are an organic garden educator working with teachers and young people in schools and communities in order to help them to ...

[i] develop a positive attitude towards getting involved in gardening including food growing;
[ii] acquire gardening skills that are of practical use, and
[ii] understand the imperative and benefits of doing all this organically.

So how do you react when, at the end of a programme, someone says:

"That was great.  I have learned so much; it was such a brilliant course – and great teaching. I've already started on my own garden plot at home with my family and we will be growing vegetables next season.  We're also looking for a local allotment.  I love it: fresh air, good food and a sense of achievement.  There's just one thing, I'm not really persuaded about this organic business."