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MMR, animal testing and others

MMR fears: beware the return of 'old-fashioned illness'

MMR fears: beware the return of 'old-fashioned illness'

Sir. Well done to Sophie Radice for writing about her daughter contracting mumps after her own decision not to vaccinate ("Why did I refuse MMR?", 15 February). I am in my 89th year, so remember all too well when a neighbour's three-month-old baby choked to death from whooping cough. I remember another local 10-year old left with life-long sequellae from a frightening attack of diphtheria. I remember the yearly summer terror that assailed parents lest there might be another polio epidemic. And how many sad cases do we see of children disabled from birth because their mothers contracted Rubella during pregnancy?

These "horrible old-fashioned illnesses", as young Ella Radice so rightly calls them, are just a few amongst many that our children no longer suffer from because of the readily-available vaccines, developed with hard work and great care, which are now accepted as "routine" by most caring parents. This acceptance produces the herd-immunity (not an expression I like very much) that prevents the epidemics we used to fear.

So it was with some despair that I viewed the recent opposition mounted against acceptance of the MMR vaccine. Worldwide expert opinion based on reliable scientific research showed no relationship to exist between the vaccine and autism or colonic disease. Nevertheless, a small number of parents (aided and abetted by certain members of the media, I regret to say) insisted upon spreading enough doubt about its safety as to cause a dangerous fall in that all-important herd immunity.

Let us hope that the present rise in the number of cases of mumps and measles will soon be halted. As Sophie Radice remarks, "those of us who decide not to give our children MMR are relying on the fact that other parents will" - not the most informed and public-spirited way to make medical decisions.

Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire

The use of primates in laboratory tests

Sir: You are spot on to argue that if the Government really wants to please the animal rights movement, the next two priority issues for them to address should be the tightening of regulation concerning the use of animals in laboratory experiments, in particular cosmetics testing, and the vivisection of primates (leader, 17 February). In fact, these issues are two of our key campaigns at the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection.

Even though cosmetics testing on animals no longer occurs here in the UK, the BUAV's "Get Lippy" campaign aims to raise awareness that most brands sold here are still tested on animals elsewhere. It asks consumers to look out for our Humane Cosmetics Standard "rabbit and stars" logo when shopping. The campaign also aims to raise awareness that France is contesting the agreed future ban on the testing of cosmetics in the EU. This has serious implications for many thousands of animals in Europe.

We oppose experiments on primates on both ethical and scientific grounds, and are campaigning to ensure their use is banned throughout Europe. As a matter of priority, experiments on primates need to stop here in the UK, and the current UK ban on using great apes needs to be extended to Europe.

It is not only shameful that here in the UK we are the largest user of primates within the EU, but also that the vast majority of them are used, not for medical research, but toxicology experiments - therefore lining the pockets of pharmaceutical companies.

Chief Executive
British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection
London N7

Sir: According to a 2002 Mori poll, 87 per cent of British people accept animal experimentation, provided at least one of these is true: that it's for medical research; there are no alternatives; and no unnecessary suffering. Animal testing of cosmetics and their ingredients was banned in the UK in 1998.

Some animal experiments are required by law, for example testing new medicines, and the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 which controls them is widely viewed as the most rigorous piece of legislation of its type in the world. Animals also benefit: many veterinary drugs emerged from researching human treatments.

While we applaud sensible dialogue and support moves to reduce and replace animals in research, our members, the UK's 112 leading medical research charities, tell us that animal experiments remain essential to progress in some areas of the work they fund. Primate use, afforded special status under the 1986 Act, represents less than 0.2 per cent of all animal experimentation and involves work on conditions including Aids, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. Your call to ban this has presumably been discussed with those affected by them?

Director of Public Dialogue
Association of Medical Research Charities
London WC1

Energy challenges

Sir: Jeremy Warner highlights the major challenge of meeting the world's growing needs for energy ("Time for a reality check, Exxon warns Europe", 18 February). For ExxonMobil, and, indeed, the entire energy sector, this is a challenge that must be met practically, affordably, safely, and in an environmentally responsible manner.

While it is clear that some European countries are going to find it difficult to meet their Kyoto emissions targets, Jeremy is incorrect in stating that ExxonMobil is dismissive of the advances that can be made through conservation. In fact, over a 25-year period our refineries and chemical plants have improved their energy efficiency by more than 35 per cent and further opportunities have been identified to improve energy efficiency by an additional 15 per cent.

We believe conservation, research and new technology are the key to meeting the energy needs of the world whilst minimising our impact on the environment.

Manager, UK & Ireland Public Affairs
Leatherhead, Surrey

Sir: As a Fellow of the Energy Institute, I am appalled that the speaker at our annual dinner was the CEO of ExxonMobil, Lee Raymond. As the event was held on the exact day that the Kyoto Treaty on climate change - which his company has spent fortunes trying to block - came into force, such an inappropriate invitation is tantamount to Amnesty International hosting the most pernicious of arms manufacturers.

I note that Raymond is no longer seeking to gainsay the science behind climate change. Instead he simply predicts an endless rise in the demand for the fossil fuels his company sells, and maintains that there is nothing that can be done to alter that. Although, as Jeremy Warner sagely points out (18 February), we could be producing just as much wealth using a fraction of today's energy, if only we were less profligate in its use.

The fact that Raymond had to be smuggled into and out of the black tie dinner suggests that even he may be becoming a little ashamed of his role as a purveyor of pollution. Please do not let ExxonMobil's irresponsibility make Lenin's prediction, of capitalists selling you the rope with which you hang them, become true for our climate.

Director, Association for the Conservation of Energy
London N1

Special schools

Sir: Ian Birrell's article "Children with special needs also deserve choice" (18 February) is absolutely accurate, and sadly, becoming commonplace. I am Head of Primary in a lovely little special school in Birmingham, recently re-located on to a mainstream site at a cost of millions. Our children all have severe sight loss and 80 per cent have additional needs. We find ourselves struggling for survival despite our purpose-built surroundings because of the wasted millions being poured into "resourcing" similar children within their local schools, in the name of ridiculous political correctness.

Mainstream schools can never be resourced to be compatible with our best special schools, and probably don't want to be. They have enough to contend with keeping up with the endless initiatives from central government. Meanwhile, resources like ourselves are being financially squeezed out of existence - and our number of referrals are so low that we are almost not viable. It is a scandalous waste. Children with special educational needs are losing out in every part of the country - even in the major cities.

What can we do to preserve our special schools, to raise their status as the jewels in the crown of education?
Name and address supplied

Hunting ban

Sir: Like most anti-hunt supporters, W P Moore tells us that hunting is "an activity which causes offence to so many" (letter, 19 February).

In 2002, more than 407,000 people came from all over the country to attend the Countryside Alliance's rally in support of hunting. Indeed, on Saturday there were tens of thousands of law-abiding citizens all over the country who turned out with their local hunts to protest against this unjust law. Yet the largest ever anti-hunting demonstration, held in August 1997, only attracted just over 3,000 people.

Most people couldn't give a damn about hunting, but what they do find offensive is all the time and money this government has spent in enforcing this badly drafted and unworkable legislation on those of us who do hunt.

London W14

Sir: I don't know of an anti-hunt campaigner anywhere who would not agree with your assertion (leading article, 17 February) that there are far greater cruelties than fox hunting that need to be addressed.

If I was given the choice of a ban on snaring or a ban on hunting, I would not hesitate to opt for the ban on snares, which cause horrendous suffering to tens of thousands of foxes and other non-target species annually. However, the abolition of snaring and the other cruelties you mention such as battery farming, experiments on animals and the exotic pet trade are not at present on offer. All that we have been offered is a ban on the setting of dogs on to wild animals for sport which, being undoubtedly cruel and unnecessary in the opinion of the majority of people and their elected representatives, should be outlawed.

It is a fact that far more children are maimed and killed in wars, die from starvation, are killed on the roads and physically abused by their parents, than are killed by paedophiles. Yet, no one suggests that this is a reason for not criminalising paedophilia.

London SE18

Noble voters of Iraq

Sir: I was dismayed by your headline "Apathy is greatest threat to Labour as poll predicts lowest turnout since 1918" (16 February). Indeed, this apathy is a threat to all political parties.

Will you allow me to make this appeal to all would-be (should-be) voters? I beg you to recall those heroic men and women of Iraq who rejoiced in this new experience of voting for a democratically elected government. Despite threats of violence, actual violence, they climbed over rubble to attend polling stations. I call upon the media in the build-up to our election to play those TV images of the noble voters of Iraq.

Placing your vote is more important than any other human activity. Not to vote invalidates our future complaints about the resultant governments.

Bridgnorth, Shropshire

Sir: May I suggest a slogan for those disaffected with New Labour and the Tories? "Hang Parliament: vote tactical!"


Church schools

Sir: Terry Sanderson (letter, 18th February) asks why it is that the Church of England ("a tiny sect") "controls" a third of our education system. The answer is that the Church of England founded these schools, long before the state began to take responsibility for the education of its citizens. Just out of interest, how many schools has the National Secular Society founded?

Chairman, Chale Church of England Primary School
Chale, Isle of Wight

Chemical colouring

Sir: Might the scare over "Sudan I" ("Cancer-causing dye is discovered in 350 foods", 19 February) suggest to food manufacturers and the Government that they should discontinue the widespread practice of adding pointless chemicals to our foods?

Artificial colourings serve no purpose whatsoever except to fatten the wallets of the chemical industry. Responsible firms like, for example, Colmans, with their English Mustard, and Kikkoman, with their Soy Sauce, can produce, without artificial colouring, attractively hued and, frankly, better tasting products than the offerings produced by some of their rivals.

St Albans, Hertfordshire

British aviation

Sir: Simon Calder eulogises about the French Caravelle which first flew 50 years ago ( The Independent Traveller, 19 February). He claims it was more graceful than the British Comet, which took to the air five years earlier. He fails to mention that, in the interests of cost and time saving, Sud Aviation of Toulouse obtained a licence from de Havilland to use the Comet's nose section and cockpit layout for the Caravelle. The Caravelle also, like later Comets, featured British Rolls-Royce Avon engines.

Harpenden, Hertfordshire

Smiths on tour

Sir: Contrary to your claim ("Not Big in the USA", 19 February), the Smiths in fact played on numerous occasions in America and had a massive following there. Since this was a story about the meteoric rise of the band Kaiser Chiefs, it's interesting to note that one Smiths gig, in June 1985, was at the Kaiser Ballroom, Oakland, California.