1 April 2001
Farmers demand fast carcass disposal
by John Burns, south-west correspondent
DEVON farmers are clamouring for the government to speed up the disposal of animals slaughtered in a bid to stop foot-and-mouth disease.
But potential sites for the mass burial and burning of carcasses are meeting fierce opposition from local communities in the area.
Ministry of Agriculture officials claim that the target of slaughtering animals confirmed with the disease within 24 hours is now being achieved.
But the target of disposing of carcasses within 48 hours is not being met.
Animals are being slaughtered more quickly but that has increased the number of carcasses to be disposed of, as also has the start of the welfare disposal scheme.
The welfare slaughter scheme aims to help farmers cull healthy livestock which face animal welfare problems because they are stuck on farms.
The policy of slaughtering stock next to farms confirmed with the disease appears to be almost on hold until suitable disposal sites can be found.
Andy Lebrecht, head of operations at MAFF, Exeter, confirmed that disposal sites at Smeethorpe in east Devon and Winkleigh in north Devon have been ruled out.
But several sites acceptable to the Environment Agency have been identified in the area and negotiations are now under way to see whether they can be used.
Asked if it was appropriate to be haggling over the cost of the sites, Mr Lebrecht said officials were considering how the land would be restored after the crisis.
Meanwhile, virtually no inroads have been made into the countys many appalling animal welfare cases resulting from movement restrictions and outright bans.
The Welfare Disposal Scheme announced over two weeks ago has barely started even though vets have warned of animal welfare problems unless it gets underway.
Mr Lebrecht said “generous compensation” was available under the welfare disposal scheme which was the responsibility of the Intervention Board.
A decision to bury carcasses from the welfare slaughter scheme in a landfill site in an area which has not yet seen foot-and-mouth disease has been criticised..
Farmers and local authority officials are worried that burying carcasses in an area free from foot-and-mouth could spread the disease.
But Mr Lebrecht said pigs killed under the scheme had been thoroughly inspected by vets on farms and then at the abattoir where they were slaughtered.
The risk was minimal, he said.
A “stress team” set up by North Devon District Hospital to visit farmers confined on farms is being criticised because of fears that it too could spread foot-and-mouth.
Asked if the disease was out of control, National Farmers Union regional director Anthony Gibson said: “I hope not, but there are worrying signs that it might be.”
Mr Gibson said he was not optimistic that any vaccination policy being considered by the government would be helpful or acceptable to farmers.
He understood that only cattle would be involved if vaccination was given the go-ahead. All pig and sheep in the area would be killed, added Mr Gibson.
Mr Lebrecht said vaccination was still an option for Devon. Data was being fed to the Ministry of Agriculture in London where experts are considering it.