Beef crisis: Health fears as bonemeal mountain grows

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A stockpile of meat and bonemeal from cattle culled under the 30-month scheme to eradicate BSE would be as high as 36 Big Bens and is growing at the rate of 2,000 tons a week.

Jeff Rooker, the agriculture minister, said efforts were being made to speed up the disposal of the bonemeal after protests by Labour MPs over health fears from constituents living near hangars which are being used for storage.

Mr Rooker gave an assurance that there would be no cutting of corners to speed up the planning process and reduce the beef and bonemeal mountain by allowing more incinerators to be built to deal with the backlog.

"No decisions have yet been taken on other major disposal options, including burning meat and bonemeal in power stations. Full weight will be given to the protection of the environment and human health in making any decisions. The Government will not cut corners in this exercise," he said.

A total of 1.9 million cattle which were perfectly healthy and not showing any signs of BSE had been slaughtered under the 30-month scheme, Mr Rooker told MPs. It had resulted in 150,000 tons of tallow and 280,000 tons of meat and bonemeal in stores around the country awaiting disposal.

"It's growing at the rate of about 2,000 tons a week. To give members some idea of the volume, it is the equivalent of 36 Big Bens," he said. "It is a very considerable volume."

The minister stressed that BSE-infected meat and bonemeal was incinerated without storage. But he said there would be an investigation into alleged breaches of storage licences raised by Swindon MPs, led by Julia Drown, Labour MP for South Swindon, at the storage of bonemeal close to residents in hangars that were infested with rats and open to the elements.

"The desperate plight of the victims of CJD and the economic crisis BSE has caused for farmers are well known ... But we all must recognise that the general public remain worried about the consequences for them.

"It is simply not adequate for experts to satisfy themselves there are no public health risks. The public need to be reassured this is the case," Michael Wills, the Labour MP for Swindon North, said.