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Send your letters to The Editor, E&T, Michael Faraday House, Six Hills Way, Stevenage, Herts SG1 2AY, UK, or to engtechletters@theiet.org. We reserve the right to edit letters and to use submissions in any other format

LACK OF UNDERSTANDING BEHIND MEAT CONTAMINATION

Reports of horse meat and pig DNA being found in beef products sold in UK and Irish supermarkets is shocking, but not surprising. I strongly doubt there is an agenda among food manufacturers to 'pass off' one meat as another. Furthermore, I doubt that there is confusion at a high level within the British food industry about the hygiene standards required to avoid such contamination. Below that level, however, there are questions to be asked.

There is undoubtedly misunderstanding about manufacturing compliance overall in the food industry. My own insight comes from the provision of oils used by food manufacturers to provide heat for their processing lines. It is an international requirement that these be food grade so that they can't contaminate product with non food-grade fluid. However, many companies are unaware that they should be using only food-grade heat-transfer oils.

The problem with beef products was first discovered by the Food Standards Agency, which highlights the value of independent testing. This isn't coincidence. What is required is better understanding and application of the regulations. Without this understanding, contamination is not just possible, it's inevitable.

Clive Jones

Stone, Staffordshire

SHALE GAS PLANS 'INDEFENSIBLE'

It has been calculated that to avoid the dangerous ‘four degrees centigrade world’ where we are currently heading, mankind must leave at least 50 per cent of known fossil fuel reserves underground where they are safe. The only way this can be done is for us to make a concerted and globally coordinated 'dash for renewables'. So why are we seeking to add more fossil fuels which are, in principle, not safe to burn to the reserves?

In the 'For or Against' debate on fracking in the February 2013 issue of E&T it is difficult not to agree with Ian Ratcliffe that the shift toward 'extreme energy extraction' is bordering on irrational. The rush to fracked shale gas is irresponsible and misguided. The wells are unsafe and prone to leaking methane to the atmosphere, and of course shale gas when combusted merely adds to the atmospheric sources of climate change.

In the UK, imported gas already provides just under half of our energy needs with only 15 per cent coming from coal. So shale gas is unlikely to replace coal. If heavily subsidised, as now seems possible, it will out-compete renewables, driving up emissions. As a long-term strategy towards decarbonising our economy the promotion of shale gas is indefensible.

Alan J Sangster CEng FIET

By email

ONLINE NEWS DEBATE MISSES POINT

Both arguments in your January 2013 For & Against debate on whether newspapers should abandon print and go online miss the point a little for me. I stopped reading newspapers of any format nearly 20 years ago, well before the advent of online digital media because I object in principle to somebody else telling me what is newsworthy.

I find I have increasingly less time to read anything of importance as the volume of information available escalates, and the competition between the purveyors of information to be seen as the definitive source appears more important to them than the content delivered.

The advantage of online digital media is twofold: the need to keep it short reduces the potential for bias, and it allows individuals to seek alternative sources of data to corroborate or disprove arguments. Online media is also far more agile and able to respond to trends and mitigate any errors. Hard copy should be reserved for information that is more than just ephemeral and whose importance has become established by continuous reference over time.

Paradoxically, or maybe it is your intention, I have found more interesting and informative news stories in the pages of E&T magazine, now that the IET is finding a better balance between maintaining its status as a learned institution and presenting itself as a forward-looking body of relevance for younger people.

Eur Ing Trevor Clarke CEng MIET

By email

BORN, NOT MADE

Andy Romain (Letters, January 2013) misses the greater point about engineers' status. It is not important that our qualification be recognised in social circles, or that we be distinguishable from washing machine repairmen: what is important is that the Engineering Council, the one that awards the meaningless designation chartered engineer to those who want some more postnominals, justifies its existence by promoting the designation so that engineering is not only recognised as the most important profession by far, but so that its name cannot be arbitrarily adopted by the 'oily rags' of the service sector.

The public and the media need to be made aware, and reminded often, that there is little they see, touch, smell, taste or hear that is not there courtesy of our profession and its cousins, science and mathematics.

Most importantly, the Engineering Council needs to not only protect the designation of engineer, but to actively lobby for legislation to limit certain activities to CEngs only.

Our position is severely weakened by the fact that engineers are born not made; that engineering is not a job, it is who we are and what we do; and that our individual quest is to find someone who will pay us to do what we are going to do anyway.

Tony Routledge

By email

WHEN IS AN ENGINEER TOO OLD?

Engineering needs to attract young men and women, but should older engineers be compulsorily retired to provide career progression and technical innovation?

A construction industry consultancy has just introduced compulsory retirement at 65, with one of the reasons being; "Safeguarding the high levels of professional and technical standards required within the business". If 65 is too old to achieve professional and technical standards, how should the profession address the decline or persuade society that older engineers are a valuable resource?

John Knight MIET

By email

SOLAR RETURN

In the 1980s I was general manager of BP's venture in alternate energy, BP Solar Systems Ltd. We recognised the value of photovoltaic cell arrays in providing remote power for lighting, pumping and telecommunications. The word 'renewable' was never used.

Our sums showed that the energy required to manufacture a solar cell was greater than the energy it would return in a reasonable lifetime under normal solar radiation conditions. The technology has moved on but the quantum physics has not changed.

Discussions on 'renewables' should perhaps factor this in and take into account the nasty environments around silicon cell manufacture and the framing materials of aluminium and glass and the toxic resins within which the cells are encapsulated.

Richard Ely CEng MIET

By email

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