Johann Hari is on the money with his article on the slaughter of animals ("No religious excuse for animal cruelty", Comment, 19 November). But it's worth pointing out that the reason for the Hebrew edicts were not only that the animal must be healthy when slaughtered and the meat demonstrably fresh.
It was rather that the Hebrews must not eat the meat of pagan sacrifices, which was the common alternative for their gentile neighbours, because such sacrifices had frequently been strangled, a far less humane method of slaughter.
If the sages writing on behalf of their Imaginary Friend in the Sky had, stated, "Thou shalt eat meat killed only in the most humane way available", which was their intent, then the lives of thousands of animals would end that much more humanely.
What really matters is that inhumane slaughter is happening. There is a clear imbalance if the slaughter regulations of the religion of 4 per cent of the population govern the slaughter of 25 per cent of our food animals, though the explanation lies not with Muslims themselves but with the abattoirs and wholesale butchers.
It is simply more convenient for abattoirs to slaughter and sell meat in the halal style. Muslims will buy the meat, and no one else in the majority population complains because no one else knows; the meat is not labelled as halal except in halal outlets.
Incidentally, a further problem comes from Jewish practices. The hind-quarter of an animal cannot be kosher unless subjected to further, and expensive, processing, so most hind-quarters of animals slaughtered in the shechita style are sold, unlabelled as such, in the general market to unknowing members of the public.
The problem affects meat-producers like me as well as meat-buyers. My local abattoir, a very large slaughterhouse specialising in the export trade to France and Belgium, slaughters only halal-style. If I want to see my lambs slaughtered using 21st-century techniques rather than what Johann Hari reasonably describes as sixth-century ones I have to take them to another abattoir further away.
The steady and, so far, unchecked spread of halal slaughter draws more and more consumers into supporting the practice without their knowledge. Far more important is that this is done without their consent. Although it cannot be reasonable that millions of us are deceived by the absence of labelling into buying meat whose production methods are abhorrent and unacceptable, much of the wholesale meat business depends on this deceit for its present business model.
J E S Bradshaw
The Fortune Flock of Shropshire Sheep,
Among the correspondence regarding animal slaughter and milk production, there has only been the slightest reference to organic and farm assurance standards. In "Do we want cheap milk or family farms?" (20 November), Martin Hickman says, "Organic milk comes from smaller, more traditional farms". True, but what he does not point out is that any farm which has organic status has to undergo rigorous inspection covering animal welfare from birth, through production, then to slaughter.
On my 100-acre holding, I keep just 50 beef cattle. It costs me more than £600 a year and about two days' worth of paperwork to comply with my organic standards and a further £100 to comply with farm assurance. But little information is fed back to the people to ensure they appreciate these standards. Sometimes I feel I am just giving jobs to box-tickers, with very little obvious financial or moral advantage to my business.
Perhaps if every dairy-product-consuming vegetarian could commit to organic milk, butter and cream and every meat-eater could check for farm assurance standards, I and like-minded farmers would feel that we are supported and appreciated by the consuming public.
P A Reid
In your article about animal welfare in abattoirs, the excellent news that Morrisons has pledged to install CCTV in its abattoirs to stamp out cruelty was marred by the quote from Stephen Lomax, veterinary officer for the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers.
He accuses government vets at abattoirs of not alerting abattoir owners to abuse at plants and says, "They spend a great deal of time phoning their boyfriends, reading the newspaper or filling in useless forms". This is untrue and offensive about a hard-working profession, operating in difficult and demanding conditions.
I challenge Mr Lomax to show us his evidence of this sort of behaviour. He should concentrate his efforts on ensuring that his members, who own and run abattoirs and are responsible for the wellbeing of the animals they kill, take steps to prevent this sort of abuse.
Tim J Smith
Chief Executive, Food Standards Agency,
Why did police baton children?
The use of kettling, horses and batons against schoolchildren is outrageous. It is a damning indictment of the British media that they focused on damage to an abandoned van rather than the far more disturbing situation that surrounded it.
As a society, we have child protection laws. Teachers rightly cannot bring canes down on the hands of our children: yet we see policemen bringing much thicker batons down on the heads and bodies of children with impunity. Do we see our pledge-breaking politicians being held to account by journalists for this violence? No, we see young people indignantly badgered, berated and bullied to account for an abandoned van.
Where are our priorities? A society which has a no-touch policy in schools seems to have no problem with the same innocent children being forcibly imprisoned en masse, subjected to cavalry charges, and beaten over the head with offensive weapons at public expense. It is a disgrace.
Admittedly, the London march did end up being a violent one because of a minority (and no thanks to the famed kettling tactics), but Edinburgh, Manchester, UCL, Oxford, and many others organised peaceful demonstrations, and even, in Edinburgh's case, lectures in front of the Lib-Dem HQ to "teach them a lesson".
And you did not give due justice to the many occupations across the UK. More than 20 universities were occupied for periods, at least 10 of them overnight.
Oxford's Bodleian Library is one of those, as well as lecture theatres and sometimes corridors in Edinburgh, UCL, Plymouth, Cardiff, SOAS, Essex, University West England, Royal Holloway and Newcastle. Most of these have blogs or Twitter accounts set up to communicate their message.
The occupiers have been commendable in the peacefulness of their protest, and in the efforts they are making to not disrupt lectures as best they can: they have done their best to make the management understand that their presence is not in view of stopping other students from going to lectures, and that other students should not be stopped from accessing facilities in occupied buildings.
They are a prime example of students and their views: education for all.
The press have let us down again. No first-hand reporting, no questioning or analysis, just merely swallowing the official line. So here is a report and informed comment.
Seen at close quarters, it was clear that Whitehall was overwhelmingly peaceful and good-natured. A few headcases had a go at that van (which seems to have been a plant to provoke the reaction it got and discredit the protest). The clear intention of the police was to corral these young people (mostly schoolchildren), intimidate them and punish them.
It is a sad but unavoidable conclusion that dissent and protest is now, as a matter of policy, something to be suppressed with maximum force.
Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire
Mistletoe and the honeybee
Your article about mistletoe (Viewspaper, 22 November) was interesting but incomplete. Here in south Somerset, where the landscape is dominated by cider-apple orchards, there is an ancient, symbiotic relationship between the apple-trees, the mistletoe, and the honeybee.
It is well-known that the honeybee is of vital importance in the pollination of many crops, including top fruit. Indeed, fruit-growers pay good money for the pollination services of the beekeeper and his bees. What is less well-known is that early in February, as the bees break from their winter cluster, and before hazel and willow provide sustenance, the honeybee can be seen taking pollen, and possibly nectar, from the mistletoe.
The early pollen stimulates the queen honeybee to lay, and the bees resulting from this early laying will pollinate the fruit of the apples. So there is this amazing, mystical relationship, the apples, the mistletoe, and the bees. One extraordinary feature of the mistletoe is that ripe berries and flowers exist on the same plant at the same time. Females, of course. Like the holly, mistletoe has male and female plants.
Kingsbury Episcopi, Somerset
Take another look over Jordan
I am writing in response to Julie Burchill's nutty generalisations (25 November) about my country of origin where, according to her, the Jordanian male is a lot deadlier than the female and regularly murders women and children. A miracle I escaped with my life.
Jordan, it is true, has not changed its laws to determine that honour killings are a different kind of murder and, until relatively recently, those who practised honour killing were protected and tolerated by local custom and therefore the law dealt with them too leniently. Not any longer. Jordanian society has undergone a noticeable shift in attitudes and this type of murder is becoming increasingly repudiated. In fact, tough sentencing is now the norm.
Jordan has clearly been taking steps to improve her standing and protect her reputation. Could one say as much about the other Jordan or her admirer?
Why does your paper support the nonsense that spews forth from Julie Burchill's pen? As an Irish citizen, and regular reader of your otherwise excellent newspaper, I am astonished you let her print such ridiculous generalisations about Ireland.
I am proud to be Irish, have nothing but affection for English culture and my English friends, and am neither religious (a worshipper of the Catholic Church, as Ms Burchill deems me), against divorce or feminism or the progress of the modern world in general.
I read The Independent because I don't wish to read racist rubbish.
Dr Liam Lenihan
University College Cork
Julie Burchill is to be congratulated on providing what must surely be the definitive description of inverted snobbery.
Doctors are not managers
Thank you for Christina Patterson's witty highlighting of anxieties among health professionals and patients about the government's plans for radically reorganising the NHS yet again ("Here's my prescription for the NHS", Comment, 24 November). This is happening despite the statement in the Coalition Agreement: "We will stop the top-down reorganisations of the NHS that have got in the way of patient care." Responsibility may be devolved to GPs but the instructions for reorganisation are coming top-down.
Turning GPs into administrators and financial managers at a time of severe financial constraints is a high-risk strategy, where the results of failure could be as painful and humiliating as described by Ms Patterson.
Giant backlog of CRB checks
My son, a qualified social worker, requires an enhanced Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check for a job he has been offered by a London borough. The standards set for the CRB say 90 per cent of enhanced checks should be completed within four weeks. The contracts between CRB and the police disclosure units state that 99 per cent of these enhanced checks should be completed within 25 days.
The performance figures show that the Metropolitan Police is achieving 22 per cent of that target, and my son has been told they have a backlog of 130,000 requests. So a young man who could be earning a good wage doing a responsible and necessary job is forced to apply for Jobseekers Allowance and housing benefit.
The Belarus plan
There is a compromise between the servitude of full-time work for benefits claimants and the drift of long-term unemployment. In Belarus, those who seek benefits perform outdoor tasks for two weeks a month. As well as the advantages desired by our government, this allows a further two weeks for finding work.
It's a comedown
Interesting that you chose to introduce an article on phobias with a picture of a large, hairy spider (Viewspaper, 25 November). My arachnophobic husband enjoyed the article very much, after I spent two hours coaxing him down from the top of the wardrobe.
St Austell, Cornwall
Perspectives on the royal wedding
William ignores plight of temps
Prince William's decision to celebrate his wedding on a specially created public holiday in April shows his total lack of understanding for the working class. I doubt he has once thought how people on temporary contracts should finance this extra day off, for which many of us will not get paid.
Due to the economic downturn and the increase in non-permanent working arrangements, this affects far more people than it would have five years ago. Today, contractors pay a much lower hourly rate than the same job would have paid three years ago. Most people have to work longer hours to make ends meet. Temps are saving to pay the rent in January, because they will lose at least three, in most cases four or more, days' pay at the end of December and the beginning of January.
In the following two months, money has to be put aside to cover Easter and the bank holidays in May. Adding an additional public holiday just bang in the middle of the height of the public holiday season is more than careless.
Why couldn't Prince William get married on a Saturday in the second half of June, as HRH The Crown Princess of Sweden did this year? Does he think the children he wants to line his ceremony route will not come unless they can bunk off school?
Maybe I am unjust, maybe it is very hard for a future monarch to meet "normal" people, but does he really try?
No Princess Ordinary
Talbot Church, "The Man the Royals Trust", goes on at length about the ordinariness of Kate Middleton (Viewspaper, 24 November). Multi-millionaire parents, Marlborough School, London flat, holidays in Mustique and she's just one of us ordinary folk, claims Mr Church.
No sir, she isn't, even though she may have been to Marlborough College just to acquire a personality. The local comprehensive wouldn't do in the personality acquisition, one assumes. And personality classes?
Princess Ordinary, Mr Church might claim her to be, but this is the carefully managed mask the Royals and their apologists present to woo the media. An extra holiday is in the classic tradition of bread and circuses to keep us proles smiling and obedient. I am just sad that The Indy which I take to avoid the royal oversell has joined the mob. My answer for the happy wedding day next year? Avoid the media, and read a good book.
Just watch this space
Was it April Fool's Day a little late or have I missed something obvious? Please tell me that creeping, crawling bit by "The Man the Royals Trust" is just an Indy wind-up.
More ideas for the Editor
Mercifully, no Ms Burchill, but a royalty columnist? Whatever next in The Independent, horoscopes and scantily clad women?