Farm bodies fall out over sludge

08 January 1999

Farm bodies fall out over sludge

By Simon Wragg

sludge injector Much more sewage sludge will be disposed of on land this year after the 1 January ban on dumping at sea

CONTROVERSY is rife over the disposal of sewage sludge on land following the 1 January ban on dumping the waste at sea.

Producers are left in confusion over whether to spread sewage sludge on land because farming organisations disagree whether the practice is acceptable to retailers.

Scottish farm leaders say the use of sewage sludge should be regarded with extreme caution.

Scottish NFU policy director Craig Campbell is adamant in urging extreme caution when deciding whether to spread sewage sludge.

“Its the lack of any indemnity for producers using sewage sludge that they wont be discriminated against that gives cause for concern,” he said.

“Until a retailer code is signed, sealed and delivered producers must be extremely cautious.”

But one major farm assurance scheme has dismissed any notion that retailers will find fault with sewage use when applied in accordance with current legislation.

“We have talked to some, but not all, retailers and dont foresee any problems,” said Brian Simpson chief executive of Scottish Quality Beef and Lamb Association (SQBLA).

South of the border, other farm assurance schemes is taking the same line.

But Phillipa Wiltshire, chief executive of Farm Assured British Beef and Lamb, suggests that meetings should be held with retailers to review the situation.

Assured British Meat hasnt yet considered the consequence of sewage disposal on land, but chief executive David Pearce says it could also appear on its agenda.

Common concern surrounds the possibility of sewage sludge transferring bacterial pathogens into the food chain.

According to Mike Paine, sewage consultant to the National Farmers Union, the risk to human health from sewage sludge includes food poisoning from E coli 0157.

“Land disposal of sewage sludge can never be regarded as entirely risk free, it will be up to producers to decide if they want to use it,” he said.

ADASs Brian Chambers says there are economic reasons to use sewage sludge as a fertiliser.

Recent industry figures suggest sewage sludge is applied on 80,000ha (197,600 acres) of agricultural land, 40% of which is pasture.

But the annual volume of sewage sludge to be disposed is expected to double to a million tonnes a year in 1999.

To pre-empt retailer demands, the water industry and British Retail Consortium have agreed that untreated sludge can no longer be applied to grass or silage ground.

Digested sludge can be directly applied to silage ground or injected at a depth of at least 150mm (6in) on grazing pasture.

Producers can find guidelines for sewage application in MAFFs Code of Good Agricultural Practice for the Protection of Air, Soil and Water.

An updated Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions booklet and local authority waste disposal departments also give advice.

But despite these guidelines, retailers have yet to collectively and comprehensively give a decision on sewage use.

This is forcing Scottish NFU legal and commercial committee convenor (chairman) Henry Murdoch to warn producers to be wary of spreading sewage on land.

“Ive already been told by one producer that a quality retailer has threatened to tear up his contract if sewage is spread on the farm,” said Mr Murdoch.

He advises producers at the very least to ask buyers if they will continue to accept stock where sewage is spread.

The Soil Association says that organic farmers are automatically excluded from using sewage sludge.


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