26 April 2001
Land poisoned by cull pyres?
By Isabel Davies
FARMLAND may have been poisoned by cancer-causing chemicals from foot-and-mouth incineration sites, the Food Standards Agency has indicated.
The agency has told health officials that farmers should not graze animals within 2km of selected burning sites before land has tested for dioxins.
A Department of Health report played down the potential health risks from pyres saying exposure to dioxins should be no worse than a normal large bonfire.
But a section examining the implications for the human food chain reveals that the food agency wants dioxin concentrations measured after burning ceases.
Tests should measure levels of the cancer-causing chemicals in soil, plants and grass around some of the larger or continuous pyres, it says.
The food agency also wants to monitor items such as eggs, meat and milk from around the sites to ensure there are no long-term effects on food safety.
The news is likely to reinforce fears that there could be long-term implications from burning carcasses in an effort to control foot-and-mouth.
Adrian Bebb, a campaigner with Friends of the Earth, accused the government of pretending that any contamination of farmland would disappear quickly.
Dioxins are among the most toxic compounds known to man, and Mr Bebb believes that heavily contaminated land could become unusable.
In dairy cows, dioxins can pass straight into milk. Other animals that consume the chemicals can store toxins in their fatty tissue until they are slaughtered.
In the early 1990s, farmers in Derbyshire were banned from selling milk for over a year after land was contaminated by dioxins from an incinerator.
Tom Hind, NFU meat advisor, said the issue was one the union was keeping very close tabs on but it had not yet issued advice to producers.
“We are liaising closely with the Environment Agency and relevant government departments to ensure guidance is fed back through to farmers.”.
Resentment over the disposal of carcasses by burning continues to grow.
Residents in Chulmleigh, Devon, were so concerned about the impact on their childrens health of smoke that they held a meeting in their parish church.
A series of protests at Holsworthy, also in Devon, managed to persuade the Ministry of Agriculture to cut the number of carcasses due burnt at one time.
Bill Harper, one of the leaders at Holsworthy, said his team had now been asked to help protesters from Petrockstow and would be doing so.
Foot-and-mouth – confirmed outbreaks
Foot-and-mouth – FWi coverage