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Friday 4 September 2009
Letters: Humiliated at Heathrow
Survivor of Nazi terror humiliated at Heathrow
We accept the inconvenience of security scanning as part of the price of our precious freedoms, including travel, for which previous generations fought and perished. The devil remains stubbornly in the detail, however.
My octogenarian mother, a surviving combatant of the Warsaw Uprising and long-time British citizen, had the misfortune to travel recently through Heathrow on her way to the anniversary commemorations as a guest of that city. A victim of mugging on a London bus, she thought it prudent to place her cash in an envelope secreted in her underwear. The airport scanner detected the offending envelope and she was unceremoniously taken out of the queue and marched to a poky room, where two women proceeded brusquely to strip-search her, one tugging to pull off her top, the other placing her hand wordlessly to rummage in my mother's pants. No explanation, no apology – humiliating and harrowing in the circumstances.
Exactly 65 years ago, the Gestapo rounded up the fighters from the rubble that was Warsaw, 2,000 of them exhausted and shattered women, my mother among them. They packed them into cattle trucks and took them to German camps where they were stripped and demeaned, uncertain of what fate awaited them.
There is no room for courtesy or respect for age in 2009 Britain. The Heathrow security operatives were just keeping the rest of us safe and carrying out instructions.
No need for GM to feed the world
Your editorial suggesting that GM crops might "solve the world food crisis" (1 September) is misguided.
Any difficulty of supply has nothing to do with any limitation on production attributable to using GM-free seed-stock. Though producers and supermarkets would doubtless prefer it otherwise, the free market exists and demand will be met by supply. There is no intrinsic reason why GM-free production cannot meet the rising demand for food that can be widely regarded as safe.
A transition to a global food market dependent on GM intellectual property rights belonging to a small handful of unaccountable corporations is in the interest only of their shareholders. It would be potentially catastrophic for our entire civilisation.
Dr Ian East
You report on large supermarkets feeling the cost of non-GM foods purchased overseas.
We have heard of the wholesale cost of milk declining by one third while the retail cost dropped one penny. We have heard of farmers preferring to bury their crops rather than meet the supermarkets' demands. How is it that those supermarkets can pressure British farmers to lower their costs substantially, yet are mere wimps when dealing with overseas suppliers?
The supermarkets met some civil servants to explain their plight. Did those civil servants ask this question: "If you are going to benefit through buying GM foods at 20 per cent less than normal crops, how will you pass that saving on to the customer?" Or, as in the case of wholesale and retail milk prices, does a 20 per cent reduction in cost lead to a 3 per cent reduction in retail price?
Ash Priors, Somerset
As we adapt our methods of agricultural production in the face of a changing environment and an increasing population, you are right to call for a "more rational and conclusive" public assessment of GM crops. This should be based on an acknowledgement that more than two trillion meals containing GM ingredients have been consumed, without a single substantiated example of harm to health.
However, as you rightly point out, consumer acceptance will be critical if the UK is to adopt a more pragmatic approach to GM crops. Despite the lamenting of anti-GM activists, most consumers do not regard GM as a major concern: indeed, the Food Standards Agency tracker survey conducted in June 2009 showed that only 4 per cent of those questioned expressed unprompted concern about GM food.
Additionally, an IGD report in 2008 suggested that a majority of consumers do recognise that there are important potential benefits of GM crops. More than half of those polled believed that GM can be used to increase productivity and feed a growing world population.
The "GM debate" in Europe has, for more than 10 years, led to a polarised set of opinions that put unfounded scaremongering before science-led decision making. Meanwhile, British farmers are denied the choice to use the tools that can improve their productivity and British consumers are denied the opportunity to buy the widest possible range of products according to their own tastes and requirements.
Dr Julian Little
Chairman, Agricultural Biotechnology Council
The rhetoric surrounding GM crops misses a key point. GM is not "science" but merely a narrow, failing technology. The claims made by GM companies regarding increased yields, lower use of fertilisers and pesticides etc have not been realised.
The UK government is virtually a lone voice in Europe in pressing for unlicensed GM animal feed to be allowed into the EU. The reasons for food price increases are complex, and despite claims to the contrary, there are more than enough non-GM crops available.
All serious discussion and analysis regarding feeding the world is now taking climate change into account, and the subsequent need for agriculture to reduce emissions by 80 per cent. Therefore it is essential to utilise renewable forms of fertility, as organic farming does, and farming using GM technology does not.
Murdoch unfair to the BBC
I am not surprised at James Murdoch's self-serving remarks, but that you should give him even qualified support is absolutely extraordinary (leading article, 29 August). Have you never seen Fox News, and do you think Sky News in the UK would be any different from Fox without the BBC as a major competitor?
Governments may attempt to interfere with the BBC (sometimes, as with Hutton, in a disgraceful way), but Murdoch knows perfectly well that BBC News is by no means an official mouthpiece. Indeed its impartiality is attested by the fact that governments of every colour have frequently resented the BBC's plain speaking. It is not the BBC that seeks to dominate media, not merely in Britain but across the world.
The Murdochs are not interested in a more open market; they just want a clearer field in which to pursue their own political and commercial agendas.
Partway through John Walsh's interview with Anne Robinson (1 September), she provides in one sentence, the answer to James Murdoch : "The BBC's the only place where you can do decent consumer journalism, because everyone else is leg-ironed by advertisers."
Hove, East Sussex
True believers in free-market health
Chris Webster (Letters, 1 September), misses a central point in criticising Greg Lindsay's praise of the American healthcare system.
By most criteria the American system delivers worse healthcare at higher cost than the British model, but Mr Webster forgets that for a significant proportion of Americans, actual healthcare outcomes are secondary to an absolute belief in the free market. For those with "faith", the ability to choose whatever treatment at whatever cost is the ultimate measure of a successful healthcare system.
The 49 million Americans who cannot afford to pay for healthcare might be an unfortunate side-effect, but those people with fundamental faith in the free market know that that is a price worth paying.
Bankers should fight poverty
Adrian Hamilton is right to swim against the tide of obsession with city bonuses (Opinion, 3 September). Policies limiting incomes at any level have never worked. Barbara Castle tried it in the 1970s and soon the industrial might of international companies united with the trades unions were railroading exceptions, higher than the level set by the policy, through the government's impotent resistance. The City and Institute of Directors will do the same.
Bankers could start to redeem their abuse of a free market in housing by focusing on the depth of poverty and inequality that free market has left in its wake. One million children live in overcrowded accommodation and the Local Government Association estimates that the nearly 1.8m households on the local authority housing lists contain 4.5m people, equating to one in 12 of the population.
There was a profound need for progressive local and national taxation, minimum income standards and a living wage long before the nation rescued failed banks. If poverty is not to worsen and national debts are to be repaid, senior bankers could give a lead by proposing policies for greater economic justice and paying for the independent, non-governmental experts needed to do that.
The Rev Paul Nicolson
Chairman, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust,
Second World War causes and effects
Bruce Anderson (Opinion, 31 August) is to be congratulated for stating some unpalatable truths about this country's declaration of war on Germany 70 years ago.
The First World War was a grave setback to Europe's position in the world; the Second a catastrophe. Germany's ambitions in the east posed no threat to Great Britain and its maritime interests. I would go further than Anderson and say that our declaration of war was madness.
On the 70th anniversary of the Second World War, how ironic that Russia still occupies eastern Poland, seized under the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of August 1939. Ribbentrop faced the gallows at Nuremburg in 1946, while Molotov lived another 40 years. Stalin was as monstrous as Hitler; Poland has much to be aggrieved about.
The Second World War started in May 1937 when Japan attacked China.
Derek J Cole
St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex
In his Media piece of 31 August, Rory Sutherland of the Ogilvy Group writes that the advertising and research industries "go about their daily work under the supposition that it's the conscious brain that's doing the shopping". Really? Not while I've been in advertising. Well before someone coined the phrase "sell the hope, not the soap," we advertisers knew that we were addressing the subconscious and not the conscious.
James Jones was absolutely right in his condemnation of Tony Blair's emetically self-righteous article (letters, 3 September). However, I would have preferred Mr Jones to say that humanists tend to respect people's right to hold different faiths or beliefs, rather than respect the faiths or beliefs themselves. Whether one should hold those particular beliefs in respect would have to depend on an evaluation of their merits. I don't suppose many people have respect for Tony Blair's belief in Iraqi WMD, but we can respect his right to hold dishonest, self-serving and foolish beliefs.
As a Christian I share James Jones's opposition to Tony Blair's thoughtless putting down of humanism (letter, 3 September). His parting shot, however, while apposite, is a little off-target. I don't think Tony Blair ever believed in WMD. What we and Iraq are suffering is the outcome of his pretending to.
Colin V Smith
St Helens, Merseyside
Oil, er, bonanza?
Wow! BP has made a giant oil discovery in the Mexican Gulf, with maybe as much as 4bn barrels of oil. The gloom mongers say the world is running out of oil. Surely this proves them wrong? Well, the world uses about 80m barrels each day, so the new discovery should keep the world in oil for another 50 days. But the experts say that only 10 per cent or 20 per cent of the oil will be recoverable. So this giant discovery will keep the world in oil for a further 5-10 days.
Cricket on film
As readers are still interested in this subject (letters, 2 & 3 September), I am reminded of an industrial film made in the 1940s by the Derby Mechanics Institute entitled The role of the Pyclet in the Evolution of the English Cricket Bat. I wonder if a copy exists?
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