How I agree with the commendably frank comments of Terence Blacker about plans to factory-farm 8,100 dairy cows in Lincolnshire (3 March). He places the blame for massive abuse of farm animals exactly where it belongs – on the cruel indifference of our society.
People need cheap meat and dairy products? After many years writing about nutrition I am only too aware how an excess of such foods has led to epidemics of heart disease and cancers. Usually there are two sides to an argument. Not so in the case of industrial farming, which causes suffering to both man beast, and nothing but ill to the environment.
It is unfortunate that while Terence Blacker talks about "tabloid hysteria" with regard to animal welfare and so-called "factory" farms he then chooses to follow a similar path.
Farmers and growers are being presented with an unprecedented food production challenge – to feed the world's growing population, which will reach 9 billion by 2050. This comes at a time when we also need to impact less on the environment, deal with changes to the climate and cope with continuing price pressures from retailers. To achieve all these aims will require the use of any scientific and technological advances that are available, such as anaerobic digestion, and will also involve many different types of farming systems.
Regardless of the type of farming system adopted, the welfare of the animals is of fundamental importance on all British farms. Housed systems are not common in Britain, with only 1 per cent of dairy farms using this method, and pose no risk to the health and welfare of the animals. As a drive out to the countryside will confirm, there are plenty of dairy cows grazing in fields.
National Farmers Union Stoneleigh, Warwickshire
After Foot, the politics of image
The reason why Michael Foot was so widely respected and admired is that he is a symbol of what politics and politicians used to be before image became more important than substance.
The derision he faced from the press over his donkey jacket, the likeness to Worzel Gummidge and his general lack of interest in personal appearance, coupled with heavy defeat at the polls, had two consequences. First, in their desire to regain power and keep hold of it, the Labour Party sacrificed ideology for presentation and developed an aversion to taking political risks, despite their huge majorities in recent years.
Second, politicians in general became ever more obsessed with the power of the media to inflict terminal damage on their prospects and, in doing so, reduced the standard of political debate to a boring exchange of managerial alternatives.
Perhaps Michael Foot's death will encourage a rethink on all sides about how to reinvigorate British politics.
Tributes to Michael Foot from MPs of all parties all refer to him being "a man of principle", and his loss highlights what a rarity principle has become in modern British politics.
With the MPs' expenses scandal rumbling on and the House of Commons filled to its ancient rafters with lily-livered career politicians desperate to stay "on message", we should mourn both the loss of the man and what he represented: one of the last in the breed of conviction politicians.
I hadn't thought that anything could put the self-serving mediocrity of our current politicians in an even more malign perspective. But that was before Michael Foot died.
Tuition fees; the Iraq war; the 10p tax fiasco; the no-referendum on Europe; the betrayal of Clause 4 and all the other socialist aspirations Michael Foot held dear. He may have been 96 but I still think he died of a broken heart.
Dementia, journey into the past
A warm thank you for Markie Robson-Scott's excellent article on people with dementia who are cared for in enlightened care homes (16 February) and its recommendation to voyage into the past with our relative or friend. However, two-thirds of people with dementia are cared for at home, often with too little practical advice. It is vital to understand that if a person has dementia, and their memories are being erased in the reverse order they acquired them, they can no longer enter our world, so we must enter theirs.
As a former family carer, the best bit of advice I ever received was, "Go with the flow, however bizarre it seems". Don't scold, contradict or argue. Too many family carers wear themselves to a frazzle trying to make things "normal" instead of letting go and recognising that things will never be normal again.
You have to learn to respond to the umpteenth repetition of a question or anecdote as though hearing it for the first time, and to allow people to "play" at their former job by providing the necessary paraphernalia. "Taking over" or being bossy will engender resistance or even aggression. Without advice of this sort, family carers become exhausted and may surrender their bewildered loved one to a care home prematurely.
Ambassador for the Alzheimer's Society,
Greer's legacy of gender equality
The personal as political is a theme which Germaine Greer brought into the mainstream with The Female Eunuch ("Does The Femail Eunuch still have balls", 4 March), and the sexual revolution, which has liberated our adult relationships, has benefited men as much as women.
Attacks on her for being old, intellectual and bemused are an assault on "middle class" intellectual women, rather than on the philosophy she developed.
Will it ever become illegal to call a female a slut or slag, as it is illegal to call someone a wog or paki? Will boys and girls ever be treated with equal respect in schools, or will boys still be bullied if they are more feminine than PE teachers would like? It is equal respect for masculine and feminine qualities in humanity that is needed. Women will continue to be belittled by the structures of society until respect for gender, like sexual orientation, is enshrined in law.
Last weekend's tabloid images of Lady Gaga attired in leather, chains and fishnet stockings really helped me put into perspective how far women have advanced since the women's liberation movement of the Seventies.
An atheist's praise for faith schools
As a secondary school teacher I was very interested to read Dominic Lawson's article about the reasons for the success of faith schools (2 March). As an atheist with a very definite leaning towards some of the views of Richard Dawkins with regard to teaching religion in our schools, my natural inclination is to oppose the very existence of faith schools.
However having spent the past year as a supply teacher and therefore experienced a number of different types of school within the state sector, I cannot deny the evidence as Mr Lawson reports it. In faith schools the atmosphere is generally one more conducive to learning, and the pupils are more respectful of adults and, perhaps more importantly, each other.
He is right to point out, I think, that this is not as a result of religion itself, and can be replicated by any institution with the right motivation, and given the freedom to impose much-needed order on children who may not experience this elsewhere in their lives.
The reason, I believe, that faith schools have generally been better at achieving such order in their institutions is precisely because they have often been given exemptions from the latest set of mandatory guidelines imposed by Big Brother in Westminster.
Teenagers make poor fathers
Britain still has the highest number of teenage pregnancies in Western Europe. E Jane Dickson ("It takes more than one to make a teenage pregnancy", 27 February) suggests that a major reason for this is that teenage boys "know everything there is to know about sex, except its natural consequences".
The result: "Where both parents are under 17, only 2 per cent of fathers are involved with the baby nine months after the birth."
Ms Dickson's remedy: find ways of "involving young fathers and potential fathers with the families they have helped to create", so that they will develop a sense of responsibility. This is like locking the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Why not lock the stable door beforehand? Why not make teenage girls thoroughly and constantly aware, before they are pressured into unprotected sex, that there is only a one in 50 chance that the young man will stick around to raise the baby – whatever protestations of eternal love he may make at the time of making love.
As teenage girls, as a whole, are generally more mature than teenage boys, this statistic could do more for contraception than trying to develop responsibility in the boy.
All Europe should shun Wilders
Opinion polls are predicting that the PVV, the party of the extremist Islamophobe Geert Wilders, who was banned from entering Britain last year, will achieve substantial gains in the Dutch general election in June, thus making it a strong candidate for partnership in a governing coalition.
In that event it is to be hoped that the EU will react with the same alacrity that it displayed in 2000, when the late Jörg Haider received similar popular electoral acclaim in Austria. Any Dutch government that includes the PVV should be isolated.
Wilders' utterances have the effect of stoking up hatred towards Muslim citizens of the EU. He has abused their faith by likening the Koran to Mein Kampf.
If this dangerous man and his party do achieve power in Holland, not only should the EU unambiguously condemn him and his views, but the UN should immediately withdraw the War Crimes Tribunal from The Hague as being no longer a suitable venue for such proceedings.
I thought I'd long since seen the end of good taste in our society, but your article on the handsome Chinese vagrant (4 March) hit rock bottom. Perhaps the model Erin Wasson should, like, try sleeping, like, in a doorway in winter. Her enthusiasm for homeless chic might diminish.
While Robin Orton (letter, 25 February) is right to draw a distinction between religious studies and theology, he is wrong to imply that they are unconnected. Anyone looking to get a better understanding of al-Qa'ida, for instance, could do a lot worse than studying the theological reflections of Sayyid Qutb.
C J J Moses
Magdalen College, Oxford
Nick Winstone-Cooper (letter, 4 March) complains that none of the election debates is to be held in the Celtic countries of the UK. I'm not sure why he is surprised. The idea that England somehow represents the UK is deeply ingrained in the English establishment's thinking. As many an English tourist has told me when mocking our Welsh road signs or being annoyed (for some reason) at hearing Welsh spoken in pubs and shops: "You Welsh can all speak English if you want to; you only speak Welsh so you can talk about us." What?
Cost of cocaine
Further to Mark Hughes's article on cocaine (The Big Question, 4 March) UCLA Today reported last year: "Add ecological devastation to cocaine's toll . . . For every gram of cocaine consumed, four square metres of pristine rainforest disappears for good . . . Over the last 20 years, Colombia has lost 5.4 million acres of tropical rainforest to coca cultivation, leaving behind denuded pockets of wasteland." Could this be even more important to our future than the issues you raise?
I frequently see as many as 17 sparrows in the lilac bush outside my kitchen window (letter, 5 March). Your correspondent from Bognor Regis confirms what I have long suspected: like so many Londoners they have moved to second homes in pleasant seaside locations.