Friday, September 12, 2008

Save the planet by cutting down on meat? That's just a load of bull

By the inimitable Boris Johnson. Never before has London had such a jolly and irreverent Mayor. The man is a living national treasure

Look, I hate to be rude to the UN. I don't want to seem churlish in the face of advice from a body as august and well-meaning as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But if they seriously believe that I am going to give up eating meat - in the hope of reducing the temperature of the planet - then they must be totally barmy.

No, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, distinguished chairman of the panel, I am not going to have one meat-free day per week. No, I am not going to become a gradual vegetarian. In fact, the whole proposition is so irritating that I am almost minded to eat more meat in response.

Every weekend, rain or shine, I suggest that we flaunt our defiance of UN dietary recommendations with a series of vast Homeric barbecues. We are going to have carnivorous festivals of chops and sausages and burgers and chitterlings and chine and offal, and the fat will run down our chins, and the dripping will blaze on the charcoal, and the smoky vapours will rise to the heavens. We will call these meat feasts Pachauri days, in satirical homage to the tofu-chomping UN man who told the human race to go veggie.

And the reason I respond so intemperately to his suggestion is that he completely misses the point. Everybody knows the reality, and everybody - every environmentalist, every Guardian columnist - pussyfoots around it. The problem is not the cows; the problem is the people eating the cows. The problem is us. Oh, Dr Pachauri is quite right to be concerned at the emissions of noxious vapours from farm animals. As the UN revealed in 2006, livestock make a bigger contribution to the greenhouse effect - to global warming - than every motor vehicle on the planet.

Cows are spreading remorselessly over the earth, as jungle is turned into pasture, and pasture is turned into cud, and cud is turned into the terrible ruminant efflatus that rises from the fields and the farms and swaddles the globe in a tea cosy of methane, 23 times as damaging as CO2.

Livestock now use 30 per cent of the earth's surface, and farming now produces 37 per cent of the methane created by human activity, and every extra cow means thousands of extra cowpats, each cowpat seemingly innocent enough, but together capable of emitting enough steaming gas to change the composition of the upper air.

Yes, Dr Pachauri is spot on in his analysis. It is his prescription that is absurd. He is quite right that if you want to buy a gas-guzzler 4x4 Range Rover and you want to offset your greenhouse emissions, you just have to pop into the nearest field and assassinate a cow. And he is quite right that if we were to kill all the cows in the world, and all the sheep, we would greatly reduce our methane output.

What he neglects in his argument are the 1.3 billion people whose livelihoods depend on agriculture, and above all he forgets the global population of human beings. It is our appetite for meat that supports those farmers, and it is our insatiable desire for burgers that has called those poor cows into existence.

Why, oh why will the modern UN say nothing about the real issue, the prior issue, the unspeakable truth that is at the heart of deforestation, global warming, the depletion of the seas, the destruction of species and just about every environmental problem that afflicts us? The biggest threat to the planet is not the lowing of the cows as they take over the Latin American savannah. It is the dizzying increase in the numbers of people driving those cows and then eating them. The world's population is up to 6.72 billion, and set to rise to 9 billion by 2050.

Now let me tell you something about the year 2050. It is not that far off. I fully intend to see it in, since I will be a mere 84, and I must say that I do not look with enthusiasm at the prospect of sharing the planet with another 2.3 billion people. I am sure that they will all each be individually charming and they will all have much to contribute to the intellectual and spiritual life of our species. But they will also make life that much more crowded, sweaty and exhausting than it already is. They will accelerate the urbanisation of the world and the turning of rural south-east England into a gigantic suburbia.

And whatever Dr Pachauri may say, I do not think they will be persuaded to eat nut cutlets. Millions of years of evolution are not to be reversed by a spot of preaching from the UN. Man is an omnivore, culturally and probably biologically programmed to take protein from meat; and those meat animals must be farmed. We cannot all eat moose, like Sarah Palin. We need cows. Not so long ago I stood in the vast canteen in the Beijing Olympic village and on one side were long salad bars, with virtually no one in the queue.


Cancer patient with months to live wins court order for last-chance drug on NHS

A cancer patient yesterday won a legal battle against the NHS to be given a drug that doctors say could prolong his life by up to three years. Colin Ross, 55, of Horsham, West Sussex, has multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood cells, and was not expected to survive to see Christmas unless he was given a drug described as his “last chance”. The High Court overruled the decision by West Sussex Primary Care Trust that treatment would not be cost-effective, and said that Mr Ross should receive Revlimid as an exceptional case.

Mr Ross had incurable cancer diagnosed in May 2004. In an interview with The Times last month he said that he was “sickened” that he was being denied the $60,000-a-year treatment even though the drug was available to patients living only a few miles away in East Sussex. But despite the exhortations of doctors treating Mr Ross at the Royal Marsden Hospital, the specialist cancer hospital in London, the trust had, since March, repeatedly refused to fund the drug, raising the issue of a so-called postcode lottery for NHS treatments.

However, Judge Simon Grenfell, sitting in London, condemned the trust’s decision yesterday as “one which no reasonable authority could have made on the application before it”. Revlimid is among the most expensive of new cancer treatments and is readily available to patients across Europe and in the United States and Scotland. But it has not yet been granted approval by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) and, because of the cost, is likely to be rejected. It is provided by only some trusts in England and then only in exceptional circumstances.

The case is likely to encourage other cancer patients who may have been denied expensive drugs on the NHS, but experts emphasise that the case does not set a legal precedent and that decisions will be taken case by case in other areas. The judge issued an emergency injunction to enable Mr Ross to begin treatment today, but the ruling was made on an interim basis pending a further appeal and not as the start of permanent treatment.

Mr Ross was too ill to attend court for the ruling but his long-term partner and carer, Wendy Forbes-Newbegin, 52, who has breast cancer, cried after the victory. She said after the judgment that the family’s treatment by the NHS had been “appalling”. “The mental anguish that we have been through has at times been unbearable, and wholly unacceptable in this day and age,” she said. “Colin’s diagnosis and recent prognosis have been so awful in the first place, but to have to endure all the months of waiting for this life-prolonging treatment has been nothing short of shameful in the first degree.”

Mr Ross, who has two children and four grandchildren, told The Times that he feared that delays incurred by his appeals to the trust and ensuing legal action may have reduced the effectiveness of the treatment. “Depending on what the judges say, I could start treatment with Revlimid, or the doctors will simply refer me to start receiving palliative care,” he said last month. “My bed in the hospice is already booked. I realise the drug is expensive for the NHS, but to think that I could have a few extra months or years to spend with my daughters and watch my grandchildren grow up – I’ve never wanted anything more.”

The former engineer in the oil and gas industry had suffered years of pain and disability from the disease, which made his bones brittle and prone to fracture. He had already been prescribed other drugs on the NHS for myeloma, Thalidomide and Velcade, but was forced to stop taking them because of painful side-effects. Before yesterday’s ruling he was taking a cocktail of painkillers and other drugs “just to keep my head above water”, and was advised that Revlimid was now the only option.

In March, Mr Ross’s clinicians asked West Sussex PCT to fund Revlimid for three to four courses at a cost of $10,000 a course and presented evidence to show that it could give Mr Ross up to three more years of life. He had been unable to purchase the drugs privately, he said. “Even if I could, the law states that I would have to become a private patient and forfeit the rest of my NHS care.”

Richard Clayton, QC, acting for Mr Ross, told the court during a two-day hearing: “This application for this drug is the end of the road for him. Either he gets the drug and is able to have life-prolonging treatment, or he doesn’t and treatment ceases, with inevitable consequences.” He added: “Were the claimant to live a mile and a half in either direction from where he does, he would have received the drug.” West Sussex PCT said that it was considering whether to appeal. [What total, complete and utter assholes!]


Foreign doctors, midwives and teachers are facing tougher immigration tests to come to Britain

Thousands of foreign GPs, midwives, teachers and social workers will find it harder to come to work in Britain under a new Government immigration clampdown. The Home Office's Migration Advisory Committee published a new list of nearly 200 skilled occupations - rated as the equivalent of two A-levels or above - which can be filled by migrant workers under new immigration rules. However they exclude a number of occupations which previously have been filled by migrants from outside the European Economic Area (the European Union plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) under the old work permit scheme. They include salaried GPs - such as those traditionally from the Indian sub-Continent - who will now find it harder to come to work in the UK.

Social workers, midwives and foreign teachers, apart from those teaching maths and science, skilled construction workers, IT specialists and architects from outside the EEA will also find it tougher to get into Britain. The new list details 700,000 jobs which are potentially open to migrants, 15 per cent of which - around 105,000 - are currently vacant and could be filled by foreigners after the new "points based" immigration system comes into force in November.

This is despite a member of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee recently warning that unemployment could hit two million by Christmas. There were particular shortages among civil and chemical engineers, quantity ship and hovercraft officers, skilled chefs earning more than 8.10 pounds an hour, skilled sheep shearers and vets.

Professor David Metcalf, the committee's chairman, said: "Don't think we are a soft touch. There are rather more jobs which we have excluded from the list than we have included." Additional job shortages in Scotland mean that migrants offering to fill a number of additional occupations will be allowed to enter the UK, including frozen fish filleters, nurses in elderly units and speech and language therapists.

The committee rated 353 occupations and 26,000 different job titles by five key indicators including pay, qualifications and training and experience to determine which and jobs were skilled. They then used 12 different indicators to decide which sectors of the economy are suffering from a skills shortage.

Skilled immigrants coming to the UK have to pass a number of points based hurdles before coming to the UK including speaking English, a job offer paying more than 24,000 pounds a year and a sponsoring employer. Under the points based system, foreigners need 70 points to enter the UK. Speaking English is worth 10 points while other points come from skill and salary levels. If the job is on the shortage list, it is worth an extra 50 points.

Prof Metcalf admitted that the focus on salary would mean that pressures to keep wage inflation down in the UK could result in more migrants coming to the UK. He said: "If you keep wages down you probably will need more immigrants."

Ministers will study the list before publishing the final version next month. Home Office Minister Tony McNulty said the list "seems broadly right" and he expected the Government to issue a "remarkably similar" list in five or six weeks. Plans for which unskilled workers under the tier three scheme are currently suspended because the Government said there are enough unskilled workers already in the EEA, the Home Office said.

The Tories criticised the plans. Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve said: "This announcement shows yet again that when it comes to managing immigration the government still don't get it. "A points-based system without an annual limit is pointless. The government need to understand that sound immigration policy is not just about admitting the right type of people to Britain but the right amount."

The Recruitment and Employment Confederation warned that excluding social and hospitality workers could create labour shortages. Tom Hadley, a spokesman, said: "The effect of the compromise position on social care and hospitality workers will need to be watched. It is vital that positions in these areas can continue to be resourced."

The report comes after a coalition of MPs and peers from all parties called for significant cuts in immigration and a new "one in, one out" policy. The Cross-Party Group on Balanced Migration called for a policy of balanced migration, under which immigration levels are capped in line with the number of emigrants to maintain a stable UK population over time.


Lord Carey joins cross-party call for overhaul of British immigration policy

The former Archbishop of Canterbury has called for an overhaul of Britain's immigration policies. Lord Carey has joined a cross-party group of peers and MPs led by Labour's Frank Field and the Conservatives' Nicholas Soames demanding "balanced migration". They want a limit on the number of people permitted to live permanently in Britain, so the population of the UK will stabilise at 65 million. Lord Carey, who has a home on Gower, insisted immigration had been a "blessing" to the country, saying: "We are simply saying we have got to have a policy that works."

The group wants the number of people permanently entering Britain roughly to equal the number leaving. Its launch yesterday coincided with the publication of a YouGov poll commissioned by think-tank Migrationwatch UK which found that among ethnic minority voters, 75% thought immigration should be cut, with 36% backing balanced migration and 39% wanting even tougher limits.

Lord Carey told the Western Mail that if Britain lacked an effective migration policy right-wing parties would exploit public resentment. He is also concerned that "ghettos" are forming in cities.

But Saleem Kidwai, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Wales, rejected the group's call that those permitted to work in Britain should be able to stay for four years only. He said: "The vast majority, we feel, make a great contribution. If they are working here, that means they are needed here. "If they are working here, why restrict their contribution? If they have a job after four years, why shouldn't they continue it?" Only 2% of migrants to the UK between 1993 and 2006 have settled in Wales. A sharp cut in immigration is backed by 81% of Labour voters, 83% of Liberal Democrats and 89% of Conservatives.

Immigration Minister Liam Byrne said: "Our tough new points system plus our plans for newcomers to earn their citizenship will reduce overall numbers of economic migrants coming to Britain, and the numbers awarded permanent settlement. "Crucially the points system means only the migrants with the skills Britain needs can come - and no more. Unlike made-up quotas, this stops government cutting business off from the skills it needs when they need them. "We've asked the new, independent Migration Advisory Committee to make sure we hear common sense on the new rules. "We're looking forward to their report on where we need migrants and where we don't before the points system goes live in under three months' time."


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