...........A persistent memory
Much like persistent pesticides, the Smarden incident lingered in people’s memories as a cautionary tale about science, government, and the industrialisation of agriculture. These memories resurfaced when in 1985 farmers at Smarden discovered the first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy
(BSE) in Kent and a number of further cases followed. Twelve years later, a perceived cluster of cases of new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease
(vCJD) in the Smarden area led to speculation that this human form of BSE was caused by excessive exposure to pesticides
. Reports in the press suggested that the residents of Smarden suspected the incident had been some sort of government-controlled experiment
and subsequent cover-up which had produced BSE. While vCJD was subsequently tied to the practice of feeding cows meal containing infected cows’ meat, bone and brain matter
, these environmental controversies ultimately made disputes among experts publicly visible, and this caused a significant change in the public’s perceptions of science.
Smarden and its legacy drove the emergence of modern environmentalism in Britain, through a confluence of a concern for public health and animal welfare, the desire to conserve the countryside, and an emergent ecological approach – such as advanced by the Soil Association, founded in 1946. It also revealed the tension caused by conflicts between what we would now call environmentalism and scientific expertise in a modern world that now routinely deploys potentially life and planet-threatening technology. New activist movements have helped make contested expertise publicly visible, and this has contributed to an erosion of trust in traditional professions and in public authorities.