Only bird flu vaccine can save free-range poultry flocks
Sir: The realities of avian flu in UK outdoor, free range and organic poultry flocks are now clear. Despite there being little evidence that transmission from wild birds to poultry is currently a major risk, under current Defra contingency planning, once the H5N1 strain arrives on these shores all poultry is to be housed. And there it will stay, for there is no exit strategy.
Such a move will spell the end of this thriving sector as Defra will be unable to sound the "all clear" with any confidence as H5N1 is likely to swirl around wild bird populations, establishing reservoirs of infection and increasing the risk of transmission to poultry for decades to come. Whatever "temporary" rules and regulations are put in place it is unrealistic to expect consumers to consider shut-up birds as either free range or organic.
Instead of drifting into permanent or a series of temporary housing regimes, Defra must now authorise and implement a strategy for the long-term vaccination of all outdoor poultry against avian flu. Vaccine is available and it is possible to differentiate vaccinated birds from naturally infected birds so the virus will not be hidden or "go underground". The alternative is to return to a system of housed, intensive poultry production which the millions of UK organic and free range consumers have already turned their backs on.
Decisive action please Mrs Beckett - no more hoping for the best, we must plan for the worst. Order the vaccine.
DIRECTOR, ELM FARM RESEARCH CENTRE HAMSTEAD MARSHALL, BERKSHIRE
Drought and the price of mange tout
Sir: The situation in East Africa is appalling and no doubt "the West" will rise again to the need of the poor and starving ("The killer drought", 21 February). However next time one selects mange tout, baby corn, string beans or sugar snap peas from the local supermarket just take a moment to check the country of origin.
Chances are they have been farmed in East Africa, requiring huge amounts of irrigation, robbing the land of vital nutrients which should be supporting native crops to feed the indigenous population - not presented on the tables of the well-heeled chattering classes.
And just to add insult to injury they will have been air-freighted, adding to the greenhouse gases, exacerbating global warming and in turn making conditions such as those in East Africa more and more commonplace.
Developing countries have every right to compete in the global market place, but let us not destroy them in the process.
Sir: The sad drought in Africa and the collapse of wildlife systems is largely down to one thing: trees - or the current lack of them.
Trees capture moisture and create rain. Tree roots retain soil and prevent it drying to dust and so clogging up river beds and turning the landscape into desert. In addition trees provide food, medication and shelter. And as we all know, trees also soak up CO 2 in vast quantities.
The problems besetting the African plains are only a foretaste of what will happen the world over if we continue to destroy our ancient forests and jungles as we have been doing over the past sixty years. Governments the world over must instigate massive reforestation projects now to prevent the spread of drought, starvation and disease.
Might I suggest an annual International Tree Day when everyone, wherever they are, goes out and plants a tree? Imagine the difference this would make in just a few years. To plant a tree costs so little, yet can yield so much.
Trade deals for poor countries
Sir: In an interview published in The Independent on 20 February Professor Joseph Stiglitz says that at the Hong Kong WTO Ministerial last December "to a great fanfare we made an offer to open our markets to 97 per cent of products" from the poorest of the 50 Least Developed Countries. Professor Stiglitz suggests that because that 97 per cent of products can exclude key exports from the Least Developed Countries "that offer was worth zero".
If by "we" Professor Stiglitz means the developed world, rather than his native United States, he is omitting to mention that the European Union has offered 100 per cent duty and quota free access to all imports from all Least Developed Countries since 2001 through our Everything but Arms system. The European Union pushed hard at Hong Kong to have all other developed economies adopt a similar comprehensive system of 100 per cent duty and quota free access, but we were rebuffed.
I do not share Professor Stiglitz's assessment that the development promises of the Doha round have been reneged on. The EU remains committed to an ambitious Doha round that boosts trade and delivers for developing countries.
EU TRADE COMMISSIONER EUROPEAN COMMISSION BRUSSELS
Drivers who assault cyclists
Sir: Richard Knight is right to highlight the severe and growing problem of cyclist abuse (Letters, 10 February). Here in Southampton, it is not only small women who are on the receiving end of abuse.
My son was recently threatened physically by a motorist whose demand that he should "get off the road" he had not instantly obeyed. Many of my fellow cyclists have been fired at with BB guns, drenched by "super soakers" and pelted with various objects.
The local constabulary takes the issue seriously and is committed to taking action against the offenders. This depends on the assaulted cyclist having the presence of mind to note the registration number of the vehicle concerned.
It is a sad reflection on our society that even members of the Olympic cycling team have said they can no longer train in this country, owing to the level of abuse from motorists. They choose to train in France, a country affording its cyclists far greater protection under the law than is the case in Britain.
How supermarkets hit communities
Sir: Dominic Lawson is well past his sell-by date for the 21st century in advocating the domination of food retailing by the supermarkets in preference to local traders ("Supermarkets deserve their success", 14 February). You do not have to be of the extreme left or right politically to see the damage these huge monopolies are wreaking, locally and globally. The experience of US communities where Walmart has become the sole retailer is devastating.
Because the supermarkets have such a stranglehold on the market (75 per cent and rising), UK farmers are being priced out of existence, local communities are being destroyed and people forced into cars to out-of-town stores for shopping. Local farmers and producers do not get a look-in. Much imported food clocks up huge air miles that are contributing to global warming and climate change.
Total belief in the neo-liberal free market is damaging socially and environmentally. For a sustainable world, we should return to a system of local production for local needs and limit international trade to essential goods.
Sir: I found Dominic Lawson's defence of supermarkets naive. Doesn't he realise that the problems with supermarkets are serious, destroying any semblance of a communicating society? And that eventually, repetitive, unappealing supermarket work will soon be the only shop-work available?
I worked for years in independent shops, where one has personal input into the the business and an involvement in local community. This experience is different from work in a supermarket. Large corporations have uncontrolled power to do as they wish, simply because they have financial clout and contacts. Supermarkets and oil companies have joined forces, selling side by side, and roads are given the go-ahead by councils hand in hand with contracts for shopping estates, often years before work starts. For example, the Hastings link road, set to start in 2007, already has contracts for new shopping parks.
We need to encourage communication and community, not destroy it. I don't want everywhere to be the same, but diversity and culture are being destroyed by putting it all under one roof. We should change the way society is going, not increase unimaginitive consumerism and car culture.
Sir: I'm sure Dominic Lawson's arguments are excellent, but I hate supermarkets. I hate "there's no call for that, madam" when I'm calling for it. I hate "milk and bread are cheaper here", loss leaders to get people in to buy the overpriced items while the farmers take the loss. I hate everything wrapped in layer upon layer of wrappings and pictures. I hate the "convenience" of waiting 20 minutes in a queue. I lose my will to live and all hope for the future of Britain when I go into a supermarket. How can so many people be conned by so few?
Free speech, but to what purpose?
Sir: Once again the "freedom of speech" argument leads to muddled thinking (leading article, 21 February).
David Irving was not merely expressing an opinion about the Holocaust. That would indeed be freedom of speech. What he was doing was denying well-documented facts: it is inconceivable that all the documentary evidence (including film footage and the buildings themselves) would be totally falsified.
The question is then: to what purpose would he do that? Just for fun? Out of childish cussedness? Or to incite racial intolerance? What do you think ?
Sir: Jailing David Irving is a totalitarian act. What is his crime? Expressing an opinion - ridiculous, offensive, but still an opinion. There is no more excuse for persecuting him than there is for treating him as a serious historian.
All jailing him will accomplish is to make him a martyr for Holocaust deniers. Those in the Middle East will contrast our rightful defence of cartoons of Mohamed with the jailing of Irving and call Western governments hypocrites who only support free speech when it suits them.
America's First Amendment should apply throughout the world: all laws against free speech, be the excuses for them obscenity, blasphemy or racism, should be repealed.
Sir: I'd like to take this opportunity to deny absolutely that David Irving has just been sentenced to three years' imprisonment in Austria. Let's see how he likes it.
WOODFORD GREEN, ESSEX
Vote misinterpreted as anti-Semitism
Sir: I congratulate the Archbishop of Canterbury and other members of Synod who voted overwhelmingly to divest from Caterpillar, because of the way their bulldozers are being used by the Israelis to destroy the homes, fields and livelihoods of Palestinians.
Very many Anglicans were beginning to despair of their church. It seemed to us that our voices and the voices of Palestinian Christians were being ignored. It seemed to us that our church was afraid to speak out because of the risk of upsetting Jewish-Christian relations.
Jewish groups throughout the world and in Israel who are working for peace with justice will welcome Synod's decision. It is the Christian Zionists and the recently formed group "Anglicans for Israel" who will deliberately misinterpret it with the usual cries of "anti-Semitism". Not so.
Moths by the roadside
Sir: If Sir David Attenborough wishes to halt the decline of Britain's cinnabar moth (report, 20 February) he would do well to address his concern to all the highway authorities who for decades have sent out teams in high summer to clear roadside verges of prolific growths of ragwort.
The other 9/11
Sir: In answer to Graham Minnett's letter (17 February), anyone educated in a British school should know that on 9 November the following events occurred: the first Jew knighted in Britain, 1837; flogging in the British army abolished, 1859; the German Kaiser abdicated 1918; Adolf Hitler failed to seize power 1923; Japanese army occupied Shanghai 1937; death penalty for murder abolished in Britain 1965. The total of these events surely outweighs historically anything that happened on 9/11.
Sir: Three cheers for Thomas Sutcliffe's championing of the beauty of windmills (21 February). Some 10 years ago, when I used to drive regularly from Truro northwards up the old A3076 to join the A30 at Carland Cross, the windmills on Newlyn Downs would gradually rise up above an intervening hill, with all the appearance of marching to meet me. For a few minutes I was Don Quixote, ready to meet these awesome giants. The later up-grading and realignment of that road, alas, altered the perspective and destroyed the illusion.
Sir: I read John Lichfield's article ( 21 February) on Verdun with interest, for I have visited the battlefield. There, the most memorable moment for me was in the Ossuary, an awesome structure containing the bones of thousands of fallen soldiers, when I witnessed groups of irreverent French schoolchildren noisily skylarking about without a word of remonstration from their teachers. It saddens me, for such lack of respect virtually ensures that future generations of French will not treat the memory of Verdun with, as Lichfield so movingly points out, the care that it deserves.
ROBERT L BRATMAN
Sir: I am writing to my cousin, who lives in Shropshire, to advise her to remove photographs of our grandfather, who was involved in the 1916 Easter Rising and in the War of Independence, from her house, lest she be criminalised for glorifying terrorism.