Letters: Demand for cheap milk

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Demand for cheap milk condemns cows to a short and dismal life

Sir: Your final-year vet student (Letters, 19 December) was correct in pointing out that dairy farmers get a very poor price for the milk their cows produce and that they have to work very hard for it. They are not, however, the only ones to be made to suffer by the intensive farming system. The fact that supermarkets seem hell-bent on squeezing the farmers for every last penny of profit does not mitigate the suffering of the cows. Dairy cows do not do "exactly what they would do in the wild".

A typical dairy cow will be conceived by artificial insemination, removed from its mother when four days old, fed on formula milk from a bottle. If it is male it may be swiftly killed for pet food or used for veal; male calves are not really needed as bulls have been replaced by men in bowler hats with syringes full of sperm.

If it is female she will be artificially inseminated at the first opportunity, have her calf removed at four days old, be artificially inseminated very quickly again and be milked for the greater part of her pregnancy. Anyone of us who has breast fed and been pregnant at the same time can imagine what this is like. In addition, the cow has been bred to produce up to five times the amount of milk as a wild cow. Consequently her udder is painfully full, often trailing in the dirt and the intensive nature of production causes great pressure to be put on the hooves which are covered most of the day in mud and excrement, resulting in painful infections.

She is injected at regular intervals with antibiotics to combat these. After five years of milking and calving, never having the chance to nurture her own calf, she is killed for meat. The normal lifespan of a wild cow is about 20 years. So let's not pretend that cows these days are treated as anything other than milk machines.

Incidentally, organically farmed cows rarely suffer from TB.



House price rise is bad news for many

Sir: Your front-page story of 20 December under the headline "Now for some good news" includes one story which will not seem such good news to much of the population. There are clear winners when house prices rise, and many feel very good about paper wealth. However, these winners are not equitably distributed across the UK.

What about those hard working families that have maxed out their mortgage only to find that as property prices have risen, and the rungs of the "property ladder" have moved farther apart, they are now unable to trade up to a bigger property in which to provide room for their children?

What about those who have worked and saved hard to pay for a one-bedroom property but now wish to start a family? Many now find themselves unable to cope on a single income, let alone trade up to a two-bedroom property. Are further price rises good news for them?

What about first-time buyers? They continue to be squeezed out of the market and find their lives on hold, stuck in extended adolescence. When do they get to start their real lives?

Only those at the very top of the "property ladder" and in their most expensive property truly benefit. The rest of us will eventually suffer from increased mortgage payments. The real long-term cost of servicing this debt in a low-inflation world means that we will pay significantly more of our lifetime earnings than previous generations to provide a home for our families.

As a nation we have become obsessed with "easy money". It is time to take a step back. We cannot for ever keep our economy going by borrowing against asset price increases, no matter how good it feels in the short term. This distortion is no longer purely economic; it is also increasingly socially damaging.



Sir: When the cost of fuel or food increases this is seen as bad news - why is an increase in the cost of shelter good news?

Those who benefit from the increased cost of housing are the mortgage lenders, speculators, the big developers with their land banks and those individuals who have made their final purchase. Even in the last group, many will have children and grandchildren who cannot aspire to the standard of living that their parents enjoyed as they struggle to pay ever-higher mortgages.

House price inflation does allow home owners to take out second mortgages - now known as "releasing equity". This may allow increased consumption in the short term, but does eventually have to be paid back.

The suggestion that "house prices should be rising between 5 and 15 per cent per year" is surely cause for alarm. I have not seen any predictions for wage inflation exceeding the 4.5 per cent that the Monetary Policy Committee considers a safe level. Does this mean we will have a lower proportion of home-owners in the future as fewer would-be first time buyers can buy? This amounts to a massive transfer of wealth from the relatively poor to the relatively rich and from the young to older generations.

I would ask that in future articles pointing out the "good news" that house prices are rising, you consider identifying who this is good news for, and which groups lose out. Misleading reporting in the media has persuaded many home-owners that increases in the cost of housing are indeed a good thing.



Sir: There are many of us out there - the so called "key workers" (nurses, teachers, hospital lab staff etc), for whom the news of rising house prices is bad news. Although we do vital jobs, many of us cannot afford to even consider buying our own homes, as our salaries are just not enough to cover mortgage payments on a house anywhere in the south of England.

All of the words to come from the Government about affordable housing for key workers remain just that - words. Unless there is drastic action either in terms of public sector pay or in terms of key worker housing, many of us remain condemned never to have the security of owning our own homes.



Sir: My son is a junior doctor working in one of the leading London teaching hospitals. He has studied and worked for nine years and is faced with a further period of at least seven years to become a consultant. He cannot afford to buy even the most basic of property in London. We now have an impoverished younger generation of non-property owners. A further increase in property values will be distinctly bad news for them.



When your dentist parts with the NHS

Sir: Brian Wilson (Letters, 19 December) has my fullest sympathy. In 30 years of living here in France, I have never once been made to wait for a health service dentist's appointment even on a Sunday or public holiday, when emergency services operate.

It was both appalling and upsetting when, two weeks ago, I had to deal with the UK dental practice at which my mother, aged nearly 101, has been treated for many years. In pain with her last remaining teeth, she requested an appointment and was informed that she'd been "deregistered" by a sinister and remote computer system and no help was offered.

I took up the matter by phone from Paris and asked why nobody had thought to inform my mother of the situation. She lives alone, has not lost her marbles and is used to "coping". I was told that "everybody in the UK knows about this ... it's on television, on the radio and in the papers".

I couldn't resist replying that, amazing as my mother is, "when you're registered partially sighted you don't exactly thrill to the TV, when your hearing is not always great the radio isn't much help and trying to read a newspaper with macular degeneration is no fun either".

A happy outcome was the result of various phone calls as I discovered the local "flying dentist" who was able to perform the required extraction while my mother nestled happily in her favourite armchair. I would merely ask "everybody" not to ask the amount of the cheque I posted from over here in order to save an elderly lady's disillusionment with the NHS.



Sir: Like Brian W J G Wilson , I received a letter from my dentist giving me "notice of de-registration". A business-like document, it informed me that the practice would "offer its dental care under a new system which turns out to be an insurance plan in disguise which, for £6.25 a month, will permit me stay on my dentist's list. My regular visit for a scale and polish will remain a private contract with the practice and subject to the usual £30 charge.

What would have made my jaw drop if I hadn't been afraid of my teeth falling out, was the total absence of public debate at this annexation of a public health service by private commercial interests. We have all come to realise that there is no effective opposition to the tumbril which is new Labour in ethereal matters like foreign affairs; it now becomes clear that the opposition has no teeth in the domestic arena either.



Sir: I wouldn't trust the letter from Brian Wilson's dentist . We've had a similar thing down here. What it means is that we're not making enough money under the NHS and we're going wholly private so we can extract more cash (and teeth) from you. When we received our letter my wife contacted her MP, Richard Younger-Ross, who made strenuous efforts on behalf of his constituents and we now have an excellent new NHS dental practice in the town. Choice can be fought for.



Refreshing outbreak of cheerfulness

Sir: How refreshing to be treated to a whole front page of uplifting good news this morning (20 April). Would The Independent consider doing this on a regular basis? This would guarantee you an increased readership and hopefully trigger copycat outbreaks of goodwill in other reputable newspapers.



Sir: I was thoroughly depressed to read your "good news". Democracy returns to Afghanistan, yet according to Human Rights Watch 60 per cent of parliamentarians are warlords or their proxies. House prices are rising, thus making affordable housing an impossible dream for more people. And the apparent glimmer of hope that chocolate is good for you only applies to smokers who avoid consuming foods that might do them some good.

Please don't attempt to cheer me up again!



Gay couple's inspiring example

Sir: I want to tell Chris Cramp what an inspiration he and his partner, Matthew Roche are to me and, I'm sure, millions of others ("Till death us do part", 20 December). How fortunate lesbians and gay men are to have such an example of determination and love as the UK's first gay wedding.

The placard-wavers should be humbled and shamed. Indeed, perhaps now the protesters can lose their bizarre obsession with gay sex and begin to see this issue as being about love, companionship, equality, and human rights. How wonderful Chris and Matthew were able to spend that last day and night together.



By this logic, pigs can fly

Sir: Peter Cave (Letters, 20 December) says that he can prove a negative, citing the statements "that Socrates is not alive", and "that pigs do not fly". He goes on to describe Popper's principle of falsification as "proving a negative". But Popper's falsification is the disproval of a positive generalisation - the classic example being "all swans are white", which a single black swan negates, a case of deductive reasoning.

Cave's example of the absence of flying pigs is a case of inductive reasoning - of all the pigs which have been observed, no pig has ever been observed to fly. But tomorrow (with genetic engineering?) we might see a flying pig. And if Cave can prove that Socrates is not alive, then presumably he can do the same for Lord Lucan.



It will be a long wait

Sir: If Edwina Currie was indeed waiting at the bottom of Mount Sinai for Moses to come 8,000 years ago (The Five-Minute Interview, 20 December), she would have had to wait about 2,200-odd years for him to appear.



Abuse of Christmas

Sir: The Dorset police must be congratulating themselves on apprehending drug dealer suspects by pretending to be carol singers (report, 20 December). They shouldn't be so pleased with themselves. They have achieved their objectives, but at the cost of abusing an honourable tradition. Would they have been equally pleased had they pretended to be a Salvation Army band, or if they had utilised a Red Cross ambulance for their raid? Police should not lose sight of what it is that they are attempting to safeguard, which includes traditional carol singing.



Positive rewards

Sir: Positive thinking may not "make a jot of difference" to my chances of surviving cancer, as Jemima Lewis says (Opinion, 17 December), but it sure makes life more enjoyable, even though, at times, it is difficult to maintain. I suspect, also, that it makes me a more congenial companion to friends and family, who must find it easier to enrich my life. Well worth attempting, I believe.



Alternative to abortion

Sir: Anne Quesney is off-track (letter, 17 December). Of course women need to be able to make choices about their pregnancies on medical grounds but the statutory basis of abortion is being routinely abused and the emotional consequences disregarded. I adopted my son when he was six months old. His teenage mother made the brave decision to go through with her pregnancy. My son is now a strapping, stroppy, but wonderful 17-year-old and I cannot bear to think of the alternative; and I am sure his natural mother thinks of him every day.


The great unwaged

Sir: I was struck by a gallery's offer of free entry to "under-18s/NUS/unwaged" (The Information, 17 December). Does "unwaged" refer to unemployed people or to both the unemployed and pensioners? Are housewives and househusbands included? What makes the term doubly unfortunate is the similarity in sound to "unwashed".