Sir: I would like to thank Dominic Lawson for his praise of the Newsnight debate in Oxford on the use of animals in medical research ("I'm on the side of humans, not animals", 1 August). The venue was probably chosen because of the vociferous protests against the building of the animal laboratory here. The pro-test demonstrations, however, have not been so well attended, perhaps because the majority of the public do not realise how much our health depends on animal research.
Every time there is a breakthrough in finding the cause of an illness or a new drug becomes available, we should be told how many laboratory animals were used in the research, why a licence had been given to allow their use, and about the conditions in which the animals were housed prior to the experiments. Then the public would be better informed about whether to support animal research or not.
The animal rights protesters have probably chosen not to eat meat or eggs, drink milk or wear leather shoes, but I never see them outside Oxford's butchers or shoe shops trying to persuade the rest of us to become vegans or to wear only trainers. Why then, given that the numbers of animals used in the production of food and leather goods are so vast compared with those used in medical research, are they trying to persuade us that animal research is of no value and trying to take away our right to benefit from it?
Perhaps before undergoing any medical procedure, we should be able to ask how much its development depended on the use of animals. Pharmaceutical companies should write "tested on animals" on all relevant products. Then we could decide whether we wanted to undergo a particular operation, or start taking a particular drug.
Sir: As a veterinary surgeon, I would like to challenge some of Dominic Lawson's assertions and correct some of the factual errors. Ask any veterinary surgeon who specialises in race horses to treat a rare parrot, and they'll refuse. That's because horses and parrots are a world apart when it comes to treatment with medical drugs. Exactly the same principle applies to people and animals. In fact, the medical profession now recognises the fact that it is no longer safe to prescribe "adult-only" drugs to children.
Professor Tipu Aziz most certainly did not discover the surgical technique known as deep brain stimulation "through experimentation on the brains of live chimpanzees". The technique was pioneered by a Frenchman, Dr Alim-Louis Benabid, in the 1980s. He discovered it while performing surgical lesions in human patients, to correct movement disorders such as Parkinson's disease.
For the record, although chimpanzees are our closest evolutionary relatives, they are nevertheless immune to Aids, hepatitis B and common malaria. Like it or not, we cannot rely on animal models to solve human health problems. The answers will be found using ethical and rational human-based methods of research.
ANDRE MENACHE MRCVS
SCIENTIFIC CONSULTANT TO ANIMAL AID TONBRIDGE, KENT
Give Palestinians fair borders with Israel
Sir: Hizbollah has elected government ministers in Lebanon and support throughout the Arab world. Hamas has won an election. Will no one ask why?
Anyone who has travelled in Palestine will know that ordinary people there accept Israel as a fact. Ordinary people know that Israel is not going to disappear in a puff of smoke, Hizbollah's or anyone else's.
What they cannot accept is Israel's continued settlement of more and more of their land. They know what no one will openly admit: Israel will not stop taking land until the River Jordan is reached. One trip by cab between Jerusalem and the Allenby Bridge border crossing with Jordan will reveal Israel's intention clearly: settlements here, settlements there, some so little they are no bigger than a village, some so big they look like one of the new towns built in Britain after the Second World War. All have been built over the past few years and all are protected by military camps and checkpoints. There is hardly a moment on that road when a settlement is not within sight.
Hizbollah and Hamas actively stand against this. If the international community wants Hizbollah and Hamas to wither, as the IRA is slowly withering, guaranteeing fair borders would be a good start.
Sir: Standing in Parliament Square on Saturday, I was struck by an irony. The last time I saw a public demonstration with so many Lebanese flags was in Beirut in the days following the assasination of Rafiq Hariri.
At that time, the Lebanese public were calling for the removal of Syria from Lebanon, and therefore by extension were demonstrating against Hizbollah. Yesterday, I witnessed many people in the streets of London carrying banners stating, "We are all Hizbollah".
What has changed in these 18 months to create such a contrast? Is it not obvious that it is our foreign policy, along with that of the US and Israel, that is the cause of the "Arc of Extremism"?
Sir: Dr Tom Weinberger (letter, 4 August) wonders how many Jews would have survived the war if the state of Israel had existed in 1939.
One wonders, too, what sort of state it would have been. According to a columnist in the Ha'aretz newspaper in early 1983, Yitzhak Shamir and the Stern Gang approached the Nazis in 1941 with an offer to form a Jewish state "on a national and totalitarian basis, which would establish relations with the German Reich and help protect its interests in the Middle East".
Not surprising - any nation dedicated to the interests of one ethnic or religious group will inevitably find affinities with another.
Sir: Had Israel existed in 1939, Hitler's view of Jews could have been entirely different. Indeed, he would probably have been able to embrace Zionists as fellow racists and recruit them for his crusade against Soviet Communism.
France has given up its plastic bags
Sir: I am constantly flabbergasted by the UK's inability to deal with the plastic bag situation ("Tesco's curb on plastic bags dismissed as 'greenwash'", 5 August). In France, where I spend a lot of my year, it has been a long time since any supermarket has provided flimsy plastic bags. They were years in advance with the provision of "bags for life", and now at least one of the biggest chains is selling fair-trade cotton bags for €1.
I have bought enough of these cotton bags to send to the head of each of our thoughtless supermarket chains, in order to ask them to stop giving away plastic bags. Even a tax on the plastic variety still means non-biodegradable bags given away in huge quantities for a very small sum of money.
What I am asking is that the boss of every supermarket chain thinks a little more about what they are doing. And that every shopper takes their own biodegradable bag with them when they go shopping.
JUDITH SLUGLETT BORODKINE
Sir: If I don't get free plastic bags from my supermarket, I shall have to buy plastic liners for my pedal-bin. That's the same amount of plastic, but at least the shopping bags get used twice.
Passport delivery lacks real security
Sir: While agreeing with Garry Honey's view (letter, 29 July) that the Passport Office does not have a secure delivery system, he is wrong in supposing that passports are delivered by Royal Mail.
When my passport failed to arrive, I was told by the Passport Office that it had been delivered by courier. When I asked the courier service who had signed for it, I was told that their contract with the Passport Office did not require them to obtain a signature except in dangerous areas. The courier had in fact put my passport through the letterbox of an empty house, where it lay among a pile of junk mail.
Sending a passport by the Royal Mail's Recorded Delivery service, which requires a signature, would cost 91p. Is this really too high a price to pay for the safe delivery of a vitally important document ?
Is it still gentlemen versus players?
Sir: There's long been a theory that so-called "posh sports" get an easy ride in the quality press.
I presumed The Independent was above such class bias, but your report concerning the England rugby union international Olly Barkley's part in a bar-room brawl, involving police tear-gas intervention and an antagonist with a broken jaw, received a mere 13 lines in your sports pages (4 August).
I wouldn't sign myself up to any conspiracy theory, but I do recall the three pages you devoted recently to trouble on an amateur British rugby league tour of Australia. And heaven knows how much prominence the Barkley story would have received if he had been a Premiership football player.
Schwarzkopf and Callas: no rivalry
Sir: It is not strictly correct to refer to the late Elisabeth Schwarzkopf as a rival to Maria Callas (4 August). They were both great sopranos, but they operated in very different areas of the same art. Callas's chief rival was Renata Tebaldi, who used her glorious voice to great effect in the Italian operatic repertoire. Neither Callas nor Tebaldi could have sung the Marschallin, any more than Schwarzkopf could have sung Tosca.
Schwarzkopf's choice of eight of her own recordings to accompany her to a desert island needs explaining. She maintained that her husband, Walter Legge, had made the choice for her. This is believable, for she had come to rely on him in every aspect of her singing career.
ST LEONARDS, EAST SUSSEX
Sir: John Walsh (5 August) asks what Elisabeth Schwarzkopf's eighth gramophone record was on Desert Island Discs.
According to Desert Island Lists, it was the prelude to Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, conducted by Herbert von Karajan. Although it is correct to say that she's not actually in that bit of the opera, she comes in pretty soon after it and is centre stage almost until the end. We might speculate why this prelude - in which the orchestra depicts graphically energetic love-making followed by post-coital gentleness - was so special. Her luxuries were sun tan oil and a French cookery book. So there was clearly more to the singer than immediately met the eye.
Mr Walsh had hoped it may have been Sid Vicious or Prodigy. But I would suggest that Der Rosenkavalier, although clearly lacking the immediacy of "Smack My Bitch Up", might prove ultimately more soothing during a long stay on a desert island.
Sir:Tony Blair should ask his new pal Arnold Schwarzenegger to attend Labour's party conference. Arnie's muscle power would be a help in keeping the hordes of rebellious party supporters at bay.
Grousing about grouse
Sir: Your article "The not so Glorious Twelfth" (4 August) bemoans the falling numbers of grouse. Surely if a species is in such drastic decline, continuing to shoot them from the sky - laughably described as "the ultimate sporting challenge" - is a rather perverse method of population conservation. Apparent concern for the endangerment of the species is contradicted by the use of terms such as "optimistic" for the number of days shooting expected this year. The forgotten victims aren't the "claret-sipping stalwarts of London's finest restaurants" but the grouse themselves.
Sir: Concerning the Domesday Book, Terry Kirby writes (3 August) that "until now, the only way to study the book was by purchasing facsimile versions, which cost £2,500 in the CD-Rom version alone". Two years ago, I bought the complete translation published by Penguin for £20 or so.
Arbuckle was innocent
Sir: "Mad Mel: how a Hollywood hero lost the plot" (1 August) perpetuates a myth about Fatty Arbuckle. Arbuckle was accused of serious sexual assault and murder, was tried three times and eventually exonerated by the judge, who apologised unreservedly to Arbuckle for making him defend himself against charges that had no basis. After the third trial, both Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton supported Arbuckle, but the experience of being used as a public example of the excesses of Hollywood broke him mentally.
HAMPTON COURT, LONDON KT8
Too young for the Tories
Sir: So, the only reason the Conservatives would not allow the DJ Nick Ferrari's dog to stand as their London Mayoral candidate was because the dog, called Thatcher, was only 12 years old and younger than the minimum age of 21 years. What this ignores is that Thatcher is actually 84 in dog years and, therefore, ideally placed to recapture the core Tory vote.
Short of years
Sir: Johann Hari writes of "the long 20th century" ("Why does the right hate Britain so much?", 3 August). Surely the media-inspired and Government-backed millennium hype ensured that this was officially an exceptionally short century, lasting, in this and many other countries, just 99 years, from 1 January 1901 to 31 December 1999. If we return to established practice, the 21st century would be an even longer century. Or, given current global concerns, perhaps not.
WEST BRIDGFORD, NOTTINGHAMSHIRE
Pack your bags
Sir: I am devastated to learn that Tony Blair has delayed his holiday. I had hoped that he would go away immediately and never return.
ST LEONARDS, EAST SUSSEXReuse content