BSPP News Autumn 2002 - Online Edition

The Newsletter of the British Society for Plant Pathology
Number 43, Autumn 2002 

Plant Pathology Promotion Fund 

The Board of BSPP has decided to set up a new fund, for the promotion of plant pathology. The twin aims of the fund are to promote awareness of plant pathology to the general public and to promote understanding of issues related to plant pathology to more closely-defined audiences.

 Under the second heading, the Board is intending to publish a booklet stemming from this year's Presidential Meeting in London in July (see p.18) on the link between plant pathology and global food security. This will be aimed at policy makers. It will aim to raise awareness and understanding of this issue and will incidentally raise the profile of BSPP as a body whose members have expertise relevant to this and other important topics. Projects under the first heading might include, for example, 'public understanding of science' activities connected with the annual Science, Engineering and Technology Week (SET7) in the UK, for example making exhibits to explain plant pathology issues to the general public.

 Grants will be awarded for a specific activity and it is envisaged that their maximum value will generally be £2,000. Applications and enquiries should be made to the President, Roger Plumb 

New Members

Unfortunately, owing to the current lack of a Membership Secretary (see p.6), it has not been possible to compile a list of new members of BSPP. A list of all those who joined since the previous issue (no. 42, Summer 2002) went to press, will be published in the Spring 2003 issue (no. 44).

Editorial: 'Spore-spore' is better than 'War-War' 

While lying in my hammock on holiday in September, I recalled a Punch cartoon from a long-forgotten dentist's waiting-room. Two ladies are taking tea in the garden while bees buzz and cucumber sandwiches curl in the sun. One says to the other, "I kept thinking this was one of those halcyon days before World War Two broke out when I remembered, this is one of those halcyon days before World War Two broke out".

This summer's BSPP Presidential Conference on 'Plant Pathology and Global Food Security' could not have been more timely, since people with full stomachs and good prospects generally have little desire to risk their security by taking part in aggressive warfare or terrorism. Global food security is therefore critical to global military security. The view that sustainable development makes a major contribution to security was a strong message from most participants in the recent mega-conference in Johannesberg, but is clearly not shared by President Bush, who, strangely, takes the Marxist-Leninist view that all conflicts must be ended by superior force and a new order of government installed before it is worth addressing the want and despair of the poor.

As the world seems headed for conflagration (unless - as we must hope - Presidents Bush and Saddam step back from the abyss), scientists may wish to ask themselves what contribution their work can make to food security. The answers may not be obvious. For instance, improving the pest and disease resistance of crops may be a boon to those who farm their own land and therefore no longer need to spend money or risk their health by using pesticides, but it may bring misery to workers on large plantations for whom a job that involves some risks at least puts food on their childrens' plates.

Technological improvements are always most valuable to those who have the power to use it for their own benefit. The economist Amartya Sen has shown convincingly that the most important contribution to avoiding famine is allowing the poor the freedom to make their own decisions about their own lives. The simple thought-experiment above illustrates just this point. In the end, Sen's work implies that trade should be both free and fair both at the global level and at the local level, so that those who grow food are free to eat it and sell it. Fair trade is detested by the Right as much as free trade is distrusted by the Left, but this is the safest path to security. Compare the effects of the recent massive epidemic of wheat yellow rust in Asia on different countries. In Afghanistan, tormented by a dictatorship of religious fanatics, it contributed to the famine which endangered the lives of millions, whereas Iran and Turkey, the most democratic states in West Asia though both have their problems, were able to feed their people and work towards combatting rust with expert help from pathologists, including our late, much-lamented colleague Roy Johnson (p.13 and see Issue 40, Winter 2001). 

Pathologists and other scientists should therefore consider how our work aids security, even in an imperfect world. If we can make a small contribution to helping the poor in their own efforts to help themselves, that will surely make a far greater long-term contribution to security than would the bizarre notion of Bush and his friends that Utopia must be imposed by overwhelming military force before a finger is lifted to help those in need.

James Brown

Are we doing a good job?

The Board of BSPP runs the Society on behalf of its members. It is always willing to have suggestions from members about new activities it could consider supporting or ways in which existing services sould be improved, to serve the interests of the Society's members and of the science of plant pathology.

 The Annual Review Meeting is a forum for discussion of BSPP's activities, but the Board is keenly aware that the number of members who come is generally small and few of them express strong opinions. The Board is always keen to have input from members at any time, so that it can continue to improve the service provided to members. Please contact the President, Roger Plumb ( or the Secretary, Avice Hall ( or indeed any other Board member (addresses on p.26).

 Two hardy perennial questions, on which members' input is particularly welcome, are:
. Meetings: what subjects would you like BSPP to organise or support meetings about?
. Funds: how would you like BSPP to spend its surplus funds? (Note the creation of a new Plant Pathology Promotion Fund)