Gordon Brown may say that "Britain is among the best prepared countries in the world," in terms of the swine flu pandemic, but we are yet to seriously examine the causes of these animal-based epidemics that can jump the species barrier to humans.
Mounting evidence suggests that intensive, industrialised farming could be playing a role. This is not the first time a triple hybrid combination of swine, avian and human viruses has been uncovered. The first was found in an industrial pig farm in 1998 in North Carolina, a state which boasts the densest pig population in North America.
Some experts have blamed the emergence on intensive farming practices in the US, where pigs and poultry are raised in extremely cramped conditions, often in adjacent sheds, and tended to by the same staff. In Mexico, too, intensive pig farming has grown substantially in recent years, with some giant operations raising tens of thousands of pigs at a time.
It is now more urgent than ever that the Government sets up the commission of inquiry which the Green Party first called for after the avian flu outbreaks a few years ago. While ministers are understandably focused on how to deal with the consequences of the current swine flu outbreaks, it's clear that we also need to devote serious resources into examining its causes.
Caroline Lucas MEP
Green Party, European Parliament, Brussels
What's the betting that if we start to wear face masks as a precaution against the flu virus, the police will conclude we are up to no good in hiding our faces, and make us remove them?
Good times or bad, poverty endures
Shortly after Dominic Lawson (Opinion, 28 April) was listening to his father in the House of Commons reducing the top rate of tax to 40 per cent in the 1988 budget, I was listening to my wealthy parishioners saying that their incomes had increased by £20,000 a year.
Later their domestic rates were decreased from around £2,000 a year to the poll tax of a £400, the flat rate expected from everyone. For poor parishioners local taxation increased from £200 to £800. Even the unemployed had to pay 20 per cent of the tax out of inadequate unemployment benefits, which research from the Family Budget Unit showed was already £40 a week below the bare minimum needed for healthy living for a couple with two children.
The Independent Inquiry into Health Inequalities reported in 1998 that average incomes grew in real terms by about 40 per cent between 1979 and 1994/5, but this growth was far greater (60-68 per cent) among the richest tenth of the population. For the poorest tenth average income increased by only 10 per cent (before housing costs) or fell by 8 per cent (after them). The incomes after rent and council tax have been paid is the crucial measure of poverty; it pays for food, clothing and heating and other essentials; so much for trickle-down.
The Thatcher, Blair and Brown governments' lecherous embrace of unbridled free market economics failed to end poverty in the boom years. The British economy is now unable to end it because the banks have swallowed the national kitty and economic justice with it.
The Rev Paul Nicolson
Chairman, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, London SW1
Dominic Lawson considers it strange that "for all those people who believe that a high level of personal tax is a social good in itself, there seem to be none who personally volunteer to pay more".
It seems equally strange to me that someone who believes that a higher level of personal tax for the rich will be damaging for our society has not personally volunteered to compensate those who will lose from the 50p tax rate.
As a voluntary adviser at a Citizens Advice Bureau, I am made aware each week of the increasing impact of the recession on people of all ages through redundancy and other financial pressures.
I then read ("Bedtime stories", 27 April) that it was necessary for at least four people to journey to Antigua to take a photo of someone in a pair of pyjamas for your fashion pages. Then as I tried to sort out my feelings of bewilderment and anger at this apparent extravagance, I further read that the pyjamas in question cost £2,755. Please, in these difficult times can we expect some better values in your paper than this.
Protecting wild rivers in Australia
Kathy Marks's article "Aboriginal outrage over Cape York's wild rivers" (16 April) acknowledges the very special ecological and cultural importance of Australia's Cape York Peninsula.
The Queensland Government's declaration of three "wild rivers" on Cape York follows extensive government consultation, and means the rivers are now protected against large-scale development threats, such as in-stream mining, damming, broadscale tree clearing and intensive irrigation. However, continuation or establishment of smaller-scale commercial uses, eco-tourism and other sustainable industries is supported, and traditional hunting, fishing, and land management are guaranteed. Native Title rights are fully protected under wild rivers.
Despite the efforts of a few to paint it so, this is not a "Black vs Green" debate, nor is it not about "neo-colonialism and dispossession". The issues concern conservation and sustainable Indigenous and other economic futures pitched against large-scale developer interests. Noel Pearson does not speak for all of the region's Traditional Owners in questioning the legislation. Many of them are in fact strongly supportive of the need to protect these rivers.
Indigenous communities should not be forced to look to environmentally destructive industries such as mining and massive irrigated cropping to receive the same level of public services, private investment and economic opportunities that other Australians take for granted.
Dr Tim Seelig
Campaign manager, The Wilderness Society, Brisbane Australia
Families who need help
If more help were offered to families struggling with children who are perhaps needy due to neurological impairments such as Tourette's syndrome and autistic spectrum disorder, many young people would not need to enter the under-funded and chaotic care system ("Children left in misery because state's care is so poor", 20 April).
In my experience as a mother and carer, and subsequent involvement in support groups, parents who ask for help from social services risk having their children removed from the family, rather than being offered help at home on a regular basis before crises occur.
Care in the community means giving the necessary care in the home, rather than having recourse to expensive institutions such as boarding schools. Why, then, isn't there more money going to families in, for instance, the form of direct payments, instead of money being spent on foster care and residential schools?
Happy to be an Anglo-Saxon
As the proud bearer of a Scottish surname, Simon Grant is probably as entitled as anyone to object to being described as an "Anglo-Saxon" (letter, 21 April). However, it is incontestable that the single most important event in the history of these islands was the arrival of people that the history books insist on referring to as Anglo-Saxons, giving us our language, and establishing our national borders.
It is interesting that the Americans (90 per cent of whom have no ancestral connection to England) are perfectly happy with the term. They understand, as Mr Grant appears not to, that the terms describe a cultural affiliation as well as an ethnic identity.
The term Anglo-Saxon is actually a contrivance dating back no farther than the 17th century. The people it describes have long known themselves by another name: English.
There really is ME in France
While I agree that many French doctors still refuse to accept that ME/CFS exists as a distinct clinical entity, this situation cannot be used to conclude that the illness is not present in France ("What's wrong with you? It depends on where you live", 28 April).
A proper epidemiological study (The epidemiology of fatigue and depression: A French primary care study. Psychological Medicine. 25 (5) 895-906, September 1995), which investigated the prevalence of persistent fatigue in France, found that this is a significant and common presenting complaint in primary care. Here at the ME Association we are regularly contacted by people in France who are desperately seeking help with regard to both diagnosis and management – some of whom appear to be receiving inaccurate explanations for their persisting ill health.
The simple fact is that if people with ME/CFS do too much and exceed their limitations – as may be advised by doctors who believe the problem lies in abnormal illness beliefs and behaviour. – they invariably feel worse as a result. The key to recovery in ME/CFS is careful pacing of activities, a process involving small but flexible increases in activity that take account of the person's limitations.
All of which is consistent with the neurological abnormalities that have led the World Health Organisation to officially classify ME as a neurological disorder (in section G93.3 in ICD10).
Dr Charles Shepherd
Hon Medical Adviser, M.E. Association, Gawcott, Buckinghamshire
Just dump the old banger
I don't have an old banger, (or, for that matter, a new banger) so unfortunately I cannot take advantage of Mr Darling's gift of £2,000 to old banger owners.
However, because I don't have a new or old banger, it is actually more economic for me to travel to work by bus. It's OK, I don't need your sympathy, I'm quite happy to read, sleep or chat to my fellow passengers on my way to work. However, I think people should realise that encouraging people to get rid of their old banger and not replace it, is far more "green" and morally worthy, than encouraging them to get into debt buying a new car. But where is the subsidy for this?
The Government talks green but in substance its support is half-hearted. We need to stop assuming that everyone "needs" a car.
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
It's a pity that when the Conservatives closed down the Greater London Council, they didn't take the opportunity to use the empty building to provide accommodation for MPs; it's only just across the Thames from the House of Commons. The MPs' expenses problem could have been addressed back then, 20 years ago.
The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, is proposing that records of all our online and phone contacts should be kept and made available to law-enforcement authorities on a case-by-case basis. Does that include making all MPs' online and phone contacts available to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner on a case-by-case basis?
Michael McCarthy (Nature Notebook, 28 April) points out that English has a special word for the flowers of fruit trees: blossom. French, he says, does not. He then goes on to emphasise the importance of blossom in Japanese art and poetry, and quotes a poem by Michizane about plum blossom. Only the poem in Japanese doesn't say "plum blossom" – that's just the English translation. What Michizane wrote about was "flowers of the plum tree", which is scarcely less circumlocutionary than the French arbres en fleurs. Japanese has no single word for "blossom" either.
As a 65-year-old I am often teased by younger friends for being unable to master more than email and surfing the net. Now I see that in order to attract a young and vibrant readership you have published, in your "New Good Life" series, a booklet that includes instructions on "how to sew on a button". So, who has the last laugh now ?
His first one hundred days. . . and how is he doing? No, not Barack Obama – he's doing fine – but his predecessor, George Bush, currently occupied, I understand, with writefying his memoiries. We must be told, in order to minimise collateral damage to the senses when the bombshell finally falls on us.