Letters: Marcus the lamb

Marcus: a children's pet or a food animal?
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The Independent Online

The headmistress of Lydd Primary School, speaking after children voted to allow Marcus the lamb to go for slaughter, claims that "the aim was to educate the children in all aspects of farming life and everything that implies".

Laudable aims. Unfortunately Marcus was named, hand-fed, stroked and, I assume, loved by some of the children. They were encouraged to make a bond. He was treated as a pet and not as an animal reared solely for its meat. The whole exercise was riddled with contradictions, poorly thought through, bound to end in tears and embarrassing for the school.

If the school really wanted the children to understand "all" the implications of livestock farming, then it should have arranged a school trip to the abattoir where Marcus met his end to witness, first hand, the "realities" of farming animals for meat. And if your response is that children are too young to witness such reality, then I suggest that they are too young to understand that emotional distance from the food animal is essential, a safeguard that the adults in charge of this undertaking signally failed to ensure. The children were expected to make the leap of understanding from caring for a "pet" to abandoning it to the "realities" of the abattoir. Most adults shy away from that one, let alone kids.

Not only was Marcus betrayed: so were the children. Their engagement with this creature should never have been encouraged. When the bond was made, then Marcus changed status, enjoying the benefits that our pets enjoy, and that includes not being eaten.

Irene Barker

Stowmarket, Suffolk

Prescribing to heroin addicts

Your front page and editorial of 14 September hit the nail on the head about the only sensible heroin addiction policy.

The key is not legalisation, which becomes a free-for-all, but decriminalisation of use, which allows maintenance doses to be given to registered addicts. This will dramatically reduce burglary and theft, empty our prisons of the addiction-based "carousel inmate" and remove the economic incentives sustaining the black market. Something some of us have been advocating for the last 15 years.

John J Fraser


The idea of prescribing heroin to heroin addicts is as scientifically unsound as it is ethically dubious and financially unjustifiable.

It rests on the false premise that that addiction is an unrecoverable disease. Yet the best evidence suggests that, contrary to received wisdom, neither genes nor toxicity of substance make this condition inevitable; epidemiological evidence shows addiction to be the most recoverable of psychiatric disorders and that recovery takes place outside clinical treatment and in the context of self-help groups.

Most addicts want to be free of dependency. With this policy they would be locked in for ever, and would be using up limited funds. The people who need our help most would thus be denied the enlightened, compassionate and practical interventions that have been shown to work.

Kathy Gyngell

Research Fellow, Centre for Policy Studies

London SW1

Contrary to your leading article, the National Treatment Agency is not calling for a "nationwide roll-out of shooting galleries" to tackle heroin addiction. Drug treatment is very effective, and cost-effective, for the vast majority of heroin addicts. However there are a small number whose addiction is so entrenched that they may fail to benefit from standard treatments. This is a very small proportion of the 160,000 heroin addicts currently in treatment in England.

An independent expert group has recommended to government that there should be further demonstration sites of injectable heroin prescribed within controlled, clinical settings, and the NTA is scoping out the feasibility of this. This should not be confused with "shooting galleries", which operate in some countries, where street heroin is used in legalised consumption rooms, which are not legal in the UK and not part of this study.

Having got record numbers of people into drug treatment so they can overcome dependency, the NTA is committed to exploring new ways of tackling addiction, even for those who are most difficult to treat. Treatment offers society an immediate respite from the harm caused by drug misuse, and a stepping stone for drug users to rebuild their lives and reintegrate into society.

The research study's initial findings on the effectiveness of prescribing injectable heroin in such settings for a very limited number of users are encouraging, and we will read the full report with interest.

Paul Hayes

Chief Executive, National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, London SE1

Climate: launch Plan B now

The alarming report on global warming and its effect on the fast-shrinking Arctic icecap (12 September) could indeed be a "disaster for mankind" unless urgent action is implemented by governments now.

It should be clear to even hardened sceptics that the effects of global warming are proceeding in some areas even faster than predicted by many climate models. In particular, the Arctic ice cap is particularly vulnerable to the positive feedback effect, where the loss of ice cover decreases the albedo or reflectivity of the ocean, which in turn then leads to further warming and melting.

Given the delay of several decades between action and climatic response it seems unlikely to me that present CO2 reduction targets, even if implemented now, will prevent loss of the icecap and thus irreversible climate change.

Therefore it is time now to start implementation of some of the geo-engineering projects discussed by the UK Royal Society, reported earlier in the week. One of the most promising schemes is that submitted to the RS by Latham's group: cloud albedo enhancement, where a fine spray of sea water is delivered into the upper atmosphere to increase the cloud cover. Its main advantage (in addition to zero pollution and easy termination) is that it can be targeted in specific areas where the effects can be monitored.

Obviously the area to be targeted must be the icecaps during their respective summers.

Dr Phil Nicholson

Former Lecturer in Physics, University of Strathclyde


Sean O'Grady's dismissive and egocentric view of electric cars (14 September) cannot go unchallenged.

Long before rising sea levels have engulfed the Thames Barrage and the sea is lapping at the steps of your Derry Street office, it will have drowned and dispossessed countless millions in the third world. Will Mr O'Grady then be celebrating the reduction in the number of consumers? It would certainly leave more petrol, as he puts it, "for the rest of us".

Creating renewable energy sources and developing transport systems which can use the electricity they generate offers hope. Inexplicably, some still judge the "burbles and grunts of a proper V8" to be of paramount importance.

Euan Cartwright

Hayton, Cumbria

Brown's apology to Alan Turing

Richard Ingrams (12 September) commented on the Prime Minister's apology over Alan Turing's treatment for being gay. I challenge his phrase "the so-called gay community".

Being a middle-class straight white male, he doesn't seem to appreciate the importance of minority groups forming communities to engender mutual support. We may have it better than those of Alan Turing's day but all is not equal even in these progressive times.

Furthermore, as I'm sure Richard Ingrams knows, this was not a spontaneous apology; it was a response to an online petition at No 10 receiving thousands of signatures. Hardly jumping on a bandwagon to appeal to our "so-called" community. The Prime Minister simply recognised a wrong committed by a previous government. Give Gordon the credit – he needs all he can get.

Graeme Donald


Richard Ingrams is entirely right to castigate Brown's "apology"to the shade of Alan Turing, but wrong to suggest it was self-serving of Churchill and his successors to suppress for 30 years the contribution of the code-breakers. Rather, this was a very rare example of a lesson being learnt from history.

Soon after the end of the First World War, the belief grew up among the German military that they had not "really" been defeated but had been "stabbed in the back" by their own politicians – with the results that we all know. In 1945 there was real anxiety that, if the Ultra secret got into the public domain, the same might happen: the Germans would conclude that they had been cheated of victory. After all, militarily speaking, they had the stronger hand of cards, but were defeated by the Allies' ability to read that hand.

John Hart

Malvern, Worcestershire

Take a gamble and vote Tory

Brendan Barber's plea to beware of public spending cuts is likely to fall on too many deaf ears as a Conservative election victory looms out of the mist.

Four million unemployed instead of two million means that 27 million people instead of 29 million get to keep their jobs. If you can gamble on being one of them and win, if you can count on long-term youth unemployment followed by youth retirement being something that only happens to other people's sons and daughters, then there's a tempting case for voting Conservative.

You get lots of lovely tax cuts. You get to consume the resources the extra jobless can't afford. And as they become long-term unemployed and then inactive, they won't compete with you for your job.

Michael Petek


An allotment is for ever

"Confiscating land" for allotments "temporarily" is not really feasible (The Big Question, 15 September). How temporary are we talking?

A garden or allotment is not a temporary affair, it is a commitment, a task, a labour of love. It advances from year to year, with triumphs and failures binding it ever more closely to the proud gardener's soul. It is ownership of a kind. It would be misleading to suggest that landowners could expect to see the return of such land in any immediate future.

The legal aspects would be horribly complex, with a huge potential for legal and social dispute. How much better might it be were the words voluntary, charitable, and local included in any such proposal. And should not some clear advantage be derived for those whose property is being targeted?

Should we now propose the "temporary" confiscation of unused rooms in larger dwellings to help with housing? Collectivisation anyone? An electoral winner for sure.

Chris Dawes

London W11


Royal mail

Mary Queen of Scots' last letter is put on display in Edinburgh. Written in England, addressed to France, it lands up in Scotland. Postal services haven't changed much between Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II.

Peter Forster

London N4

Voting options

Alongside your report of 11 September you give a brief summary: "Electoral reform. The options." Where was the multi-member constituency option? So this government is not considering it; so what? They won't because it will loosen their stranglehold on who stands for the Labour Party. If there is to be a debate, at least give us all the options.

Peter Downey

Wellow, Bath

Iran and the UN

You wrongly claim that the United Nations objects to Iran's uranium enrichment ("Talk to Iran in good faith", 15 September). It is the Security Council that does so. The UN General Assembly thinks otherwise. It has voted for the creation of a Middle East free of nuclear weapons. There is, at present, only one nuclear-armed Middle East state. It is, in reality, a western outpost.

Yugo Kovach

Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

Sixth-Form history

Caroyln Tennant (letter, 15 September) is looking with rose-tinted glasses at the educational past. Back in the 1980s, at my old school, those who passed a couple of O-levels were urged, almost bullied, into staying into the Sixth Form, purely in order to attract more local authority per capita funding. I remember urging a 16-year-old not to stay on but to take a vocational course elsewhere, and being roundly ticked off by senior management for putting the school's finances in jeopardy.

Allan Friswell

Cowling, North Yorkshire

Back to the future

Your correspondents have been considering the implications of the phrase "moving forward". Is not the path of any venture, including life, a case of facing forward, while walking backwards into an unseen future?

Alexander Rizenko