Pet food prices hit by inflation

Every edition of the NS should carry a clear health warning: Ziauddin Sardar nearly did for me ("A nation that believes it speaks for the world", 22 January).

Drowning in a media ocean of conflicting facts, opinions, prejudices, lies, factoids and statistics, I do tend to cling to the NS as my lifebelt. So I was disconcerted not by the obvious error in Sardar's numbers, but by the fact that it wasn't corrected last week.

Just how many millions are there in Sardar's billions?

He told us that the US spends $17bn annually on pet food - "$4bn more than is needed to provide basic healthcare and nutrition for the world's entire human population". Now either he is telling us that six billion (thousand million) people can get by very nicely on just over one pound sterling each a year for food and healthcare, at the current rate of exchange ($13bn shared by six billion people) or that about 350 million Americans spend $17 thousand thousand million (l7 billion in the old, unused "English" billions) on pet food alone.

I suffer from high blood pressure, and the paroxysms of laughter at this prospect nearly did for me. The prospect of every American citizen spending nearly $50,000 a year on pet food is so appalling, so grotesque, that it can't be true - can it?

Chris Knapp
Norwich, Norfolk

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Laughing all the way to No 10?