On-farm burial ban could see costs spiral up
By Hannah Velten
THE ensuing EU ban on on-farm burial is prompting industry concerns that costs of disposing worthless stock could escalate and disease could spread, unless alternative methods are found.
On-farm burial of stock is set to be outlawed under new EU rules, possibly by the end of 2002, leaving only two approved methods of disposal – rendering or incineration. These usually involve either the hunt or knackermen collecting stock and disposing of them off farm.
It is unclear as to how many producers are using on-farm burial and hence the impact of regulations, says NFU meat industry adviser Barney Kay.
However, Alan Bloor of AB Associates pig consultancy says most large pig units have already installed on-farm incinerators. "Even on smaller units, the last thing producers want is to have vehicles entering the unit carrying deadstock from other farms, because of the risk of disease spread."
According to Cotswold Sheep Group consultant Alastair Bird, many local producers rely on burial or the hunt to collect fallen stock. A survey by the Countryside Alliance in 2000 showed that 200 hunt kennels picked up 366,000 head of fallen stock/year – a service worth £3.37m to producers.
However, Press officer for the Campaign for Hunting, Darren Hughes says that the service will be threatened by a hunting ban. This leaves responsibility for collection in the hands of 52 licensed knackermen and the same number of collectors. Diane Ashworth, secretary of the Licensed Animal Slaughterers and Salvage Association, says the current system supports the collecting of casualty cows within 24 hours.
But she believes many sheep producers are burying dead stock. "Over the last 20 years, sheep and lamb processing by knackermen has fallen to 5% of what it used to be." So if sheep producers all turn to collection, will the system cope, asks Mr Bird.
Despite the number of knackermen, the possibility of setting up a National Collection Scheme will be one option discussed with DEFRA at a stake-holders meeting on April 3. "A similar government-funded scheme operates in Germany. Because the ban on burial is a matter of public health, the NFU are taking the view that any UK scheme should be government-run," explains Barney Kay.
Mrs Ashworth says it would not be cost-effective to collect from one farm at a time to reduce the risk of disease spread. "The best value for money option would be a milk round system, but all knackermen carry disinfecting units in their cabs," she adds.
On-farm incineration is a possibility. But the practical, smaller units have a capacity of 2t/year as they burn less than 50kg/hour and cost £3500-5000, says Roger Kay, research scientist at ADAS Terrington who has been involved with environmental pollution issues. "One option could be centralised incineration, where producers organise their own co-operative."
But Roger Kay believes composting under guidelines which guarantee pathogens are controlled would be an excellent solution to carcass disposal. "This is illegal in the UK, but the method is used in America and Canada on large pig and poultry units. It is more environmentally friendly to biologically degrade fallen stock than use fossil fuel to burn or heat them."
Another biological option being considered is the bio-reducer, says Barney Kay. "This is a large concrete vessel with a manhole cover. It is totally self-contained when buried and a bacterial starter is added to digest dead animals," he adds. *
• National Collection Scheme?
• Risk of disease spread.
• Need cost-effective alternatives.