Furore over fallen
By Marianne Curtis
LACK of co-ordinated thinking from the government and further possible legislative changes mean producers could face uncertainty about what to do with fallen stock when European legislation outlawing burial is introduced in 2002.
Inevitable deaths at lambing time means the problem could be particularly acute for sheep farmers, believes National Sheep Association chief executive John Thorley.
"This will mean another increase in costs for producers, without a benefit. Alternatives include using small incinerators but it is currently unclear whether these will fall foul of the law in future.
"Hunt kennels pick up large numbers of fallen stock but if the government bans hunting this outlet will also disappear," says Mr Thorley. "There is a lack of joined up thinking by politicians on this issue."
Hunts collect 366,000 head of fallen stock a year at an average cost to them of £9.20/animal and the service is already stretched to its limits, says Countryside Alliance deputy director of policy Pete Sheridan.
"Coverage of hunts is quite good through the UK. They offer an essentially free collection service but there has been a staggering rise in disposal costs since BSE, with many having to install incinerators to cope."
Politics is also wreaking havoc with attempts to forward plan, adds Mr Sheridan. "Hunts which dont already have incinerators are currently unlikely to invest in them because there is uncertainty over whether hunting will be banned and we dont know whether incinerators with a throughput of 50kg/hour or less – which are used by many hunts – will be exempt from complying with expensive environmental regulations." (Livestock, Mar 31).
Some progress has been made on gaining an exemption for low throughput incinerators but there may be strings attached, says NFU environment consultant Mike Payne. "We should know the outcome within weeks or at most three months.
"Currently no-one wants to approve a route for disposing of carcasses. We have pressed the Environment Agency to come up with constructive advice on how they would like producers to dispose of carcasses, but this seems to be causing them some difficulty."
Licensed Animal Slaughterers and Salvage Association secretary Chris Ashworth is more upbeat about the situation. "I am reassured to see that despite BSE, many knackery centres are still in existence and providing facilities can be brought back into economic use, we will be able to provide a good service."
The fall-out from BSE may even have contributed to an improvement in the service, believes Mr Ashworth. "For the Over Thirty Months Scheme we have been required to operate a UK-wide collection service which has provided a valuable insight into the logistics and economics of doing so.
"Whether it is the Highlands and Islands of Scotland or the Isle of Wight we must be able to remove stock and systems are now in place to ensure full traceablility. In the early days of OTMS, 50,000 animals a week were entering the scheme. This has fallen to 20,000 currently, which frees up capacity for disposal of fallen stock."
But although the capacity may be there, what is the cost? "There is unlikely to be money forthcoming from government for livestock disposal. However, producers have found that charges for removing and disposing of animals are surprisingly low. They can expect to pay £7-£10 for an adult sheep and £30-£40 for adult cattle," says Mr Ashworth.
To deal with lambing time losses, he believes a milk round-type service could function with a knacker visiting each farm on a daily basis. Another option would be a mobile incineration unit – hired out by knackers – which could operate on a farm for the lambing season, he adds.
• Burial outlawed, 2003.
• Need clearer guidance.
• Increasing role for knackers?