Leaders: Carbon monoxide alarms | Lab-grown food

Carbon monoxide alarms will eventually be in every home. Picture: PA
Carbon monoxide alarms will eventually be in every home. Picture: PA
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HEALTH and safety regulations get blamed, sometimes correctly but often wrongly, for all sorts of killjoy and interfering rules.

News that they are being extended further into the home may irk some as yet another nanny state intrusion but in the case of carbon monoxide alarms, such objections are surely wrong-headed.

The Scottish Government has decided that building regulations should be altered to make the fitting of carbon monoxide detectors compulsory in all homes and places where people stay when new, or replacement, gas boilers and heaters are installed.

Yes, it adds to the mass of red tape that already festoons building work, and the makers of such devices will cheer that they are being given a guaranteed market. But at a cost of about £20 per alarm, it is hardly an onerous ­burden.

It is a fact that carbon monoxide is a killer. It is invisible and has no smell, so when a boiler is faulty and the gas starts leaking from it, the average householder does not notice. A build up can then occur, making the occupants feel drowsy and fall asleep never to wake again.

Some may argue that householders ought to be regarded as responsible enough to install such detectors themselves. But the record on fire alarms shows that all too many people are ­irresponsible and either fail to fit alarms or, if installed, do not check that they are working.

According to UK government statistics, in a third of all house fires in Britain, no fire alarm had been installed. In a further fifth of domestic fires, alarms had been fitted but were not working. Often people disable them if they go off during cooking, or if the battery needs to be replaced.

The statistics also demonstrate that the increase in the proportion of houses with fire alarms has been accompanied by a reduction in the number of house fires where the fire brigade has been called out. That is because early detection means that the ­occupier is often able to put the fire out before it gets too serious.

Sadly, of all the home countries, Scotland has the worst record for deaths and injuries caused by fire, with an annual death rate of 10.8 people per million population, which is about 40 per cent higher than the fatality rate in England and Wales. This is why building regulations covering fire alarms were revised in 2010 to make sure alarms covered the whole house rather than just a hallway.

The same undesirable trend is likely to apply to carbon monoxide incidents. Official sources reckon that 25 deaths a year are caused by carbon monoxide poisoning – campaigners to prevent such deaths reckon that the true death toll may be double that.

If the geographical pattern of these poisonings follows that for fire deaths and injuries, the problem is likely to be worst in Scotland. So a regulation requiring the installation of a comparatively cheap device that should help prevent such deaths is surely justified.

No real need for lab-grown grub

Human ingenuity never ceases to amaze, but does the world really need a beefburger grown in a laboratory at a cost of £250,000? The technology is admittedly astounding – a few stem cells taken from a cow and cultured to produce billions more cells, which were then shaped into a burger which, according to professional foodies, is pretty close to the real thing.

Remarkable stuff but, we suspect, as turned out to be the case with Dolly the sheep, it is simply brilliant and costly science rather than anything that will come to have a real use.

There are many reasons why an alternative way of making cheap beefburgers could be a good thing. If consumers knew by what processes inexpensive burgers were made – via offal and so-called mechanically-recovered meat – they might come to prefer a lab-grown burger.

Other ways of producing them might also mean their fat content could be reduced, helping to deal with society’s current obesity problem. Their nutritional value might also be increased, helping with people’s diets.

And perhaps there would be less need for beef cattle, meaning there would be fewer herds of methane-producing beasts, helping to deal with global warming problems. More farmland could be turned over to arable agriculture, which would help ensure the world does not run short of food.

But surely there must be cheaper ways of achieving all that. Perhaps Quorn, or some other meat substitute, could be made to simulate beef just as effectively, but a lot more cheaply.

That would have the beneficial effects listed above, though the science involved would be humdrum rather than dazzling. Time for dull and boring advances in food technology