Sir: Your graphic, "How supermarkets creamed off (milk) profits" (8 December) hardly does justice to the iniquitously small proportion of retail food prices which is retained by farmers.
The proportion shown as farmer's "profit" is actually the gross price, which was clearly not enough to cover production costs because it caused the mass exodus of thousands of farmers from milk production. At best, some were making one or two pence per litre for toiling year-round to produce the stuff, while the big dairies and supermarkets were taking at least 10 times as much for turning it over within a couple of days. A similar thing has happened with bread, which has suddenly risen by 8p per loaf, although the recent jump in wheat prices equates to only two or three pence per loaf, even assuming that wheat was being bought at current ex-farm prices. In fact, a very large proportion of today's bread will be made from wheat bought on forward contract at the much lower prices of 2006.
Beef and sheep farmers are even more exploited, now being paid the same prices for their top-quality, grass-fed meat as they were in the mid 1980s. If the tables were turned so that the UK had six farmers and 10,000 retailers, I am sure that there would be much less enthusiasm from certain quarters for "market forces". There would also be no need for farm subsidies.
Sir: Does one detect a late convert to Marx's critique of capitalism? (Andreas Whittam Smith : "Price collusion is a crime however presented", 10 December).
Prisons fail in duty of care for offenders
Sir: The inability of the Prison Service to uphold the legal duty of care owed to all inmates is again highlighted in the inquest's findings into the tragic death of 20-year-old Louise Giles ("Prison Service 'failed' woman who killed herself", 8 December).
Ms Giles died at Durham prison in 2005, as a result of strangulation by ligature. Her television and radio were taken from her a week before she died, an act of meanness, and the inquest was told prison authorities contributed to her death by ignoring warnings about her history of paranoid schizophrenia and self-harm.
My daughter Sarah was 18 and the youngest of six women to die at HMP Styal in the 12 months ending August 2003. Severely depressed, she was locked in a cell in the prison's segregation/punishment block (with no television and radio), and died the following day.
The six deaths at Styal Prison, which acted as the trigger for the Corston Report, were also described as "a clear example of corporate manslaughter" by Deborah Coles, co-director of Inquest. History is repeating itself, and with tragic consequences. The failure of the Prison Service to learn lessons is alarming.
Reforming women's jails is urgent, and must not be delayed. Yet ministers are claiming there is no money to fund the implementations of the Corston Report. Justice Secretary Jack Straw must show moral leadership, and act now.
Sir: I made some calculations based on your article about the Government's latest scheme regarding so-called "super-prisons" (6 December). If my sums are correct, the average annual increase of the prison population, based on the 20,000 rise in the past 10 years, is 2,000 inmates. If the Ministry of Justice builds an extra 15,000 places by 2014, six years away, we're left with 3,000 places.
Super. But there is also a plan to close older, more dilapidated institutions (with a population of 5,000) beginning at the end of 2013. Does that not leave a further 2,000 criminals without cells?
With the Government creating rafts of new offences every year, imposing its own absurd sentencing ideas with gleeful blindness and attempting to ram through its proposals to increase the limits on detention without trial, the future looks rather bleak.
These measures are short-sighted and do not provide for events after 2014. What will it take to make Labour see sense? A riot on the scale of Attica or a mass breakout?
Stockport, Greater Manchester
Futile rebellion damages Colombia
Sir: Congratulations to John Lichfield for his description of the Colombian FARC as having no "clearly defined political aims" ("Rebel video shows kidnapped Betancourt is alive", 1 December). I am a Colombian living in the UK. It is frustrating to read constantly of the FARC as some popular insurrectionist movement against a "right-wing, US-supported President Uribe".
In so far as the FARC have any political vision, it is in terms of agrarian reform, which fails to resonate in any meaningful way with most of Colombia's electorate of town and city dwellers. Support for FARC in opinion polls runs at less than 5 per cent. President Uribe's approval ratings consistently exceed 65 per cent.
The World Bank estimates that the armed conflict with the FARC has reduced Colombia's GDP by more than 40 per cent in the past decade. A country second only to Brazil in bio-diversity, Colombia has a negligible foreign tourist trade because of the terrible damage kidnapping does to our national brand. Those brave souls who do overcome their fears and visit our country come back with stories about the hospitality and friendliness of the people.
It really is about time Europe's media developed a more realistic view of the economic and psychological damage the FARC inflicts on our economy and its citizens. And how does one negotiate with a group that has "no clearly defined objectives" apart from gangland loyalty to some of its own members and a poisonous attachment to racketeering, kidnapping and the narcotics industry?
Link between HIV and TB neglected
Sir: Harriet Stewart-Jones draws attention to the growing problem of TB/HIV co-infection (Letters, 3 December) and comments that there was little reference made to the links between tuberculosis and HIV around World Aids Day. This is partly a result of the HIV community's failure to take on TB as an issue, despite TB being the leading killer of people with HIV and Aids.
Last week, Results UK published the report "An Inadequate Response: More than two decades of complacency in addressing the TB/HIV co-epidemic". The report found that the relationship between TB and HIV had been identified in the earliest stages of the HIV/Aids epidemic, but still efforts to control both diseases remain largely independent of each other.
There are now thought to be between 12 and 15 million people co-infected with TB and HIV globally. In parts of Africa, up to 70 per cent of people living with HIV are also infected with TB. It is therefore crucial that HIV counselling and testing is offered to all TB patients and that antiretroviral therapy is made available to all who need it. Similarly, all people with HIV should be screened for TB and given treatment if necessary. These actions will help to prevent many premature deaths.
In 2008 it will be 20 years since the World Health Organisation first recommended a joint response to TB and HIV.
Project Manager, RESULTS UK, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
Checks on Olympic Lottery spending
Sir: Your article "Dome was insolvent within a month of Millennium Day" (8 December) said I admitted the Olympic Lottery Distributor operates the same crude spending checks on Olympic spending as the Millennium Commission did on the Dome. This is not the case.
In neither case are the spending checks crude, and, incidentally, the processes for checking the costs of constructing the Olympics are much more rigorous and complex. Both organisations have the same powers in terms of making grant (make grant or not), but this does not mean that there are crude checks on spending of grant (agreeing plans for spending and releasing money against achievement of those plans).
One should also remember that the Dome's problem was not that it was not built on time or that its construction went significantly over budget; its problem was income. I believe that we can have more confidence that the content of the Olympics will mean we do not have a similar problem.
Mike O'Connor CBE
Chief Executive of the Olympic Lottery Distributor, London EC4
Crazy ways of Led Zep days
Sir: Fashionista Carola Long starts her piece on "Led Zeppelin: the fashion" (Arts & Books Review, 8 December) with the perfect Zeppelin quote for such an article: "Crazy ways are evident in the way you're wearing your clothes" and then ruins it by erroneously attributing the line to "Dazed and Confused" (from Led Zeppelin's eponymous first album). It's actually from "Dancin' Days", a song that first appeared on the band's fifth album, Houses of the Holy.
And the photo of Joe Strummer (8 December) was printed back to front. Jimi Hendrix played the guitar left-handed, but Strummer certainly didn't.
Martyn P Jackson
Rock reviewer, 'The Crack' magazine, CRAMLINGTON, Northumberland
A hospital with Catholic ethics
Sir: Your article on the actions of Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor in issuing the Hospital of SS John and Elizabeth with a "hard-line" directive on medical ethics (report, 8 December), does not make it clear that the private hospital is a "Catholic hospital", which receives support from the Roman Catholic Church, and was in part founded by the Sovereign Military Order of the Knights of Malta.
To insist that this hospital should provide treatments inconsistent with Catholic ethics is like demanding a spaghetti bolognese in a curry house, or fish and chips from a bookshop. If staff at the hospital want to offer services incompatible with the corporate ethos they should consider working elsewhere.
Dr Andrew Papanikitas
History distorted in Japan's schools
Sir: In the 1970s, when I was at university, a friend and fellow student, who was Japanese, asked me why the Malaysian-Chinese girls would talk to me but not him. "You're Japanese," I replied. He was mystified. His knowledge of the Second World War consisted of America's (unjust) embargo of Japan (caused I suspect, in part by events in China), the (justified) attack on Pearl Harbor and (the crime against humanity), Hiroshima. I told him the Japanese had invaded Malaya and brutalised the Chinese population there.
Years later, I was in a public library in Germany when my attention was drawn by a huge number of volumes bound identically; I was stunned to realise they were the transcripts of the Nuremburg war-crime trials. The difference could hardly be starker, and it's summed up in one word: education (or lack of it).
But why did the Chinese authorities lock the gates of Nanking, leaving its defenceless civilians "to be broken like jade". (letter, 8 December).
Dr Peter Smith
What's Defra got to do with it?
Sir: I was so impressed by your front page on Guyana's offer to Britain about their rain-forest (24 November) that I wrote to the Prime Minister and the Minister for International Development, urging them take up this offer.
I had a reply from 10 Downing Street, saying that, as the PM cannot reply to all the letters, he has asked that mine be forwarded "to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs so they may reply to you direct". When did Defra take responsibility for Guyana, and who in No 10 thinks Guyana is a UK rural area?
Buckland Newton, Dorset
No gift of imagination
Sir: I was disheartened to see that none of your suggested 50 best Christmas gifts for women was sports-related (The Information, 8 December). What chance do we stand if even The Independent can't think outside the box of chocs, underwear and candles ?
The devil you say
Sir: In Johann Hari's thoughtful article on resistance to vaccination (10 December) he is too sweeping when he says that "all the major religious texts say explicitly that disease is caused by demons and devils". I can't speak for all religions, but while it is true that in Biblical times many people held such beliefs (and we read about them in the Bible) they were not, and are not, part of Christian teaching. Incidentally, Jesus contradicted the other common belief that illness was caused by a person's sin or that of their parents (John 9.2).
Stonehenge plan hailed
Sir: The decision not to re-route the A303 away from Stonehenge is one of common sense (Richard Ingrams, 8 December). I am delighted so many other people will be able to glimpse that wonderful sight on their way to the West Country. It is a victory against those who would turn Britain into a theme park where our heritage can be viewed only by those able to pay, and visitors subjected to the shopping experience that goes with any admission.
Thanks to the Tories
Sir: Gary Flowers may have bad memories of the Tories (letter, 8 December). I was 30 in 1979 and I have only good ones. Can Mr Flowers tell us how many hospitals, schools and policemen he would have sacrificed during 1979-97; a) to keep miners and their sons scratching granite from exhausted pits until they were old enough to draw gold-plated, index-linked pensions; b) to keep British Leyland making cars that were a world joke and c) to prop up nationalised industries blatantly run for the benefit of their workers not their customers.
Sir: It was good to see the Archbishop of York cutting up his dog collar as a protest against Robert Mugabe. May we now see the Archbishop of Canterbury do the same in relation to George Bush?
Revd Dr David L Gosling
Principal, Edwardes College, University of Peshawar