Letters: Intensive farming methods

Use of drugs in farming puts human health at risk

Monday 20 June 2011 00:00

The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) has concerns over the discovery of a new MRSA strain in British milk and echoes the calls to ban the routine use of antibiotics in farming ("Death wish", 17 June). If intensive dairy farming becomes the norm, there is a risk of antibiotic-resistant disease growing in the UK.

We only have to look to America to see how antibiotics prop up the industrial farming system. When WSPA visited leading US academics last year on our second investigation into the mega-dairy industry, we were told that of the 27m lbs of antibiotics produced annually in America, just 3m lbs are used for humans, with the rest used in animal husbandry.

Dr Robert Lawrence at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told us this was "creating enormous health problems".

As well as the human health implications, we agree with the University of Liverpool scientists who argue there is "no welfare case" for the routine use of antibiotics as they mask poor management, animal husbandry and cow welfare. Many of the health problems associated with intensive dairy farming could be mitigated by allowing cows to graze outdoors.

Britain's farmers need to be empowered to make use of our country's farming strengths, rather than copy a non-sustainable intensive system that has ravaged US dairy farming and the communities that depend on it.

Simon Pope

Head of External Affairs, WSPA UK,

London WC1

Your article does not paint the full picture. There are industry guidelines for the responsible use of antimicrobials and vaccines in pigs, poultry, cattle, sheep and fish.

The NFU is a partner in the Ruma alliance (Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance) whose aim is to promote the highest standards of food safety, animal health and welfare and the responsible use of medicines in British livestock farming. We encourage our members to be guided by the Ruma guidelines and believe that antibiotics should be used as little as possible but as much as necessary.

The addition of antibiotics to feed to improve the growth rates of farm animals has been banned throughout the EU since 1 January 2006. Antibiotics are now only used under the prescription and care of a veterinary surgeon to combat and prevent bacterial infections which may cause animals to become sick, in the same way that humans use antibiotics.

This is true regardless of the type or management system on a farm and there is no evidence that more intensive farming systems use more veterinary medicines, or more antibiotics. The NFU promotes positive farm health planning, with farmers and vets working together, to ensure the health of the animals on farm. Furthermore, withdrawal periods from the human food chain for meat and animal products following any therapeutic antibiotic use in the animal are in place to protect consumers from inadvertent consumption of these substances.

Martin Haworth

NFU Director of Policy

Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire

The dramatic growth of antibiotics in farm animals poses a serious threat to human health. The real problem is the massive growth in demand for meat.

The only way to meet this is through factory farming, a system based on selective breeding for high yield, overcrowding and gross restriction of animals' natural behaviour.

The only way to take the pressure off animals is to drastically reduce meat consumption. Grains being used to produce biofuel and almost 40 per cent of cereals going to feed animals is pushing millions of people towards starvation. The global-warming impact of methane emissions from farm animals is well-documented too.

There is one solution to all these problems and that is to revert to a vegetarian or vegan diet. Those who cannot take this step straightaway can start by giving up meat a few days a week.

Nitin Mehta

Croydon, Surrey

I wholeheartedly agree with Johann Hari (17 June) on the use of antibiotics in livestock to pre-empt possible infection and so maximise profits. What truly amazes me is that big business, both agri- and distributive, executives and their government friends, seem to ignore the fact that they or their families may need an antibiotic at some time in the future when the efficacy of these agents may be compromised. Short of living in an aseptic bubble, no one is safe from infection.

Patrick Cleary

Honiton, Devon

If all your readers who buy from the big supermarket chains take time to see a manager, or write, to express their concerns and ask firmly and repeatedly for antibiotic labelling on meat, milk and egg packaging, it might start an ethical ball rolling.

June Armstrong-Wright

London NW11

I'm a teacher, get me out of here

You say "the principle that all workers should qualify for a state pension at the same age should be beyond argument" (leading article, 18 June).

I contest this strongly. As a teacher working in a school with a large number of teachers close to 60, I see daily the strain of working with small children. In many jobs, one can "cruise" a little into retirement; a good office team would help out a colleague close to retirement, say, or one who had lost sleep due to looking after small children, in the understanding that they may be in that situation one day too.

A job like teaching offers no such possibility. When the children are in school, it's extremely demanding. As a 42-year-old part-time teacher, who considers herself "a grafter", I can say it is ludicrous to expect people to manage a challenging job such as teaching beyond 60. Those who dispute this have no idea of what the job entails.

Teacher attrition already runs at a ridiculously high rate. As you reported last year, over 404,600 fully trained teachers under the age of 60 are no longer teaching, and 25,000 people who have qualified as teachers since 2000 have never entered a classroom." Ask yourselves: why? Whatever the reasons, a substantial sum of money is being spent by taxpayers to train teachers who do not stay in the profession. Might we be getting a sense of the demands of the role?

Raising the retirement age means those who do stay in the profession will be too physically and mentally exhausted to keep up with pupils young enough to be their grandchildren. I care about children, and I certainly don't want my children being taught by teachers who are physically and mentally burned out.

Every private-sector worker benefits from public-sector workers retiring at an age suitable to the occupation in question. We all use the fire service, have children at school, use hospitals.

The principle that all workers should qualify for a pension at the same age is not only ridiculously simplistic, but worse, dangerous.

Maxine Lambert


This move on public-sector pensions couldn't come soon enough. Gordon Brown single-handedly wrecked the private sector's pensions by subjecting them to tax on dividends, depleting them by an estimated £5bn a year. Having done that, it is only fair that the whole economy stop subsidising a minority of its population – the public sector – whose pensions are linked to earnings and are therefore unaffected by this attack.

The UK cannot afford its changing population dynamics. We are all living longer, for which we should be grateful, but the price is that we need to remain economically active for longer and pay more into our pensions to support longer retirements.

We have low interest rates and low inflation, which when linked to higher life expectancy cause lower pensions. Going on strike is effectively striking against good health and long life, low inflation and cheap borrowing. Do these public sector strikers really want to return to the alternatives?

John Kelly


West Sussex

Dr Peter Glover writes: "The NHS pension pot is actually in surplus" (18 June). This is impossible, as there is no pension pot – public-sector pension schemes are essentially Ponzi frauds, which depend upon new contributions to pay for old liabilities.

David Culver

London SE9

Nursing is not exactly the highest-paid career around, yet we are to be punished along with many other public-sector workers by this Coalition Government. The starting salary for a newly qualified nurse is around £21,000pa; this falls outside the exemption for reduction in pension contributions mentioned by Danny Alexander. This attack on public-sector pensions will only encourage nurses and many other public-sector employees to either opt out of their schemes or not bother joining at all.

Richard Quinlan

Registered Nurse,

London SW2

In your leading article of 18 June, there seems to be a fundamental confusion between the state pension and occupational pensions earned by those in the public sector. Of course everyone becomes entitled to the state pension at the same age, but the conditions of occupational schemes are quite separate from this. It has not yet emerged whether occupational public-sector schemes (e.g. teachers and health workers) will not permit access to benefits at all before the age of 66 years, or whether earlier release will be permitted for reduced benefits as is the case now. Since benefits reach a maximum after 40 years' service, there could well be a fundamental contradiction here. Private-sector schemes also mature at ages different from that at which the state pension becomes payable, and why should they not? Little wonder that there is so much confusion when allegedly responsible newspapers encourage such anti-public sector sentiment, totally without justification.

Dr David Moulson


French tax on second homes

As a rare Independent reader in Dordogneshire – the local Maison de la Presse sells mainly inferior publications – I would argue that the campaign against the new French tax on second homes is overblown (letter, 16 June).

Many rosbifs, resident and non-resident, make various contributions to their local community and pay their taxes. Some do not. And the counterpoint to the silent majority is the presence of a number of disgruntled expatriates who try to live in a British bubble. Some of the English-language papers based in France seem to cater for this vocal minority, giving the impression of a colony of whingeing Brits suffering under what I'd call Gaston's law, which decrees that inveterate Francophobes always choose to buy their second home in France.

One of the few recent growth industries in rural France has been the boom in British service providers aimed at those who can't be bothered to learn French: estate agents' billboards springing up in remote villages, financial advisers, plumbers, carpenters, swimming-pool installers, firms installing satellite dishes to pick up British telly, and online and other firms enabling beleaguered expats to bring in the baked beans from Blighty. (Other expats also attract resentment. A legend in our neck of the woods has it that thrifty Dutch second-home owners drive back with their rubbish bags to avoid paying local collection charges.)

Let's put this into context, which is that this law is being enacted by the French government in France. That it may cost far less than the scaremongers claim. And that campaigning for those who have a second home, which cost far less than the owners would have paid in the UK and is usually in a beautiful part of France, may not gain much traction when many French couples can't afford a first one.

Rod Chapman

Sarlat, France

Energy prices on the rise

We have just received notification of Scottish Power's most recent price rise, to start on 1 August 2011, due, according to Scottish Power, to a rise in wholesale energy prices (Notebook, Mary Dejevsky, 15 June).

If that is so, can anyone explain why the increase will affect the daily service charge, rather than the unit price of electricity? The former is set to go up from 14.27p to 23.84p: in percentage terms, a rise of 67.1 per cent and an extra £34 or so per annum.

Nor will it do any good for householders to attempt to economise with their electricity consumption; this particular charge stands whether a householder uses any electricity or not.

Monique S Sanders


Cliché crusaders

Your correspondents' ownership of "amazing" and "iconic" (letters, 10 June) will remain unchallenged in this house so long as I can claim a copyright over "passionate". The annoying overuse of "passionate" and "my passion" in reality-TV shows to demonstrate that the speaker likes/loves/is mildly interested in (insert own choice of pastime) would, of course, mean that I could devote all copyright income to encouraging the proper use of the word.

Alan Careless


May I add "first priority" to the list (Letters, 17 June)? I have never come across second, third, etc, priorities.

Mark Kermode


Perspectives on rubbish collection

Take responsibility for your waste

I cannot agree with John Walsh (16 June) that when everything was thrown into one refuse truck "that was it". It certainly was not – it was carted off to huge landfill sites, where methane emissions did 23 times more harm than CO2 gases; surface and groundwater was often polluted; and odours, heavy traffic and litter were the consistent companions of the sites and the routes to them.

Councils are not putting in recycling schemes to bully their residents. The Government has stated that any fines for the UK exceeding its EU landfill limits in 2013 and 2020 will be handed on to the councils that landfill too much waste. The fact that Landfill Tax is now £56 per tonne, on its way to £80 per tonne, means minimising the landfilling is now a necessity.

The best way to avoid waste is not to create it in the first place. I cannot remember this Nirvana when everything was collected weekly from one bin; maggots, fleas, rats, and foxes were all there when we had weekly collections, and bins were often overflowing. Surely people must take responsibility for the waste they create, no matter how it is collected?

Mick Wright


We were greener in the old days

We used to recycle a lot of stuff properly, instead of, as we do now, turning it into rubbish which we reprocess at vast environmental and financial cost.

On a recent trip to Finland I was impressed by the way they recycle pop and beer bottles for reuse. They are made of a heavier gauge of plastic suitable for repeated reuse. They are all standard shapes so they can be used by any drinks manufacturer, cutting down on complicated redistribution logistics. They also carry a small deposit so people have an incentive to return them.

We also used to reuse paper bags, cardboard boxes and even wood for fruit punnets. In fact, we are much less green now with all these "recycling" efforts than we were 40 or 50 years ago.

Phil Baker

Newton Abbot, Devon

An exemplary recycling regime

Weymouth is a small authority with limited resources, but as a coastal resort with cross-party commitment to excellence in our refuse collection we have introduced a weekly kitchen-waste collection and fortnightly general waste and separated household paper and glass+metal+plastic bins over the past five years. And the results? We are in the top 10 per cent for proportion of waste recycled; we sent the smallest poundage per head to landfill of any local authority in Britain last year, and we top the charts of residents' satisfaction with their refuse-collection service.

An additional benefit of our change to a separate kitchen waste has been that, over time, people have realised just how much food they threw away unused; that has now changed, so the amount of food waste collected has reduced by more than a quarter.

Cllr Ian Roebuck

Weymouth, Dorset

The polluter does not pay

The politics of recycling is inherently unfair. The polluter doesn't pay. The recycling cost is paid out of public taxes and not by the company and its customer, who may choose to buy all manner of over-packaged goods and have the problem sorted out by someone else. As for newspaper, we just buy too much of it. Full credit then, to The Independent for publishing i; it cuts down on recycling, and what's more, there's no room in it for any garbage.

Paul Leach


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