Concern over burial sites for carcasses

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The Independent Online
Investigations by The Independent have found a number of sites around England where BSE-infected carcasses with the heads removed were legally buried before 1991, when government advice was changed to insist that cows with BSE must be incinerated except in unusual circumstances.

The sites identified are in a variety of counties, including Bedfordshire, Cheshire, Dorset, Lancashire and Norfolk. It is not known, though, how many of the 6,117 BSE-infected cattle that the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (Maff) said have been buried in landfills since 1986 are located at the sites. Maff staff are now urgently compiling a centralised list.

The sites identified by The Independent are:

t A tip operated by Shanks & McEwan in Bedfordshire, south of Milton Keynes. Rail freight workers recall a delivery of infected cattle before 1990. A company spokesman was unable to verify the details, but said: "We would have disposed of animal waste in the manner demanded by legislation."

t Arpley Meadows, near Moore, Cheshire. In 1990, it was taking delivery of at least four carcasses per week.

t White's Pit, Poole, Dorset. An unknown number were deposited there in 1988 and 1989. The action was defended subsequently by the Maff divisional veterinary officer for the area, who said: "There is no evidence of BSE in bones."

t Rowley, near Burnley, Lancashire. Up to 20 a week may have been buried on the tip for up to 18 months.

t Attlebridge tip, near Taverham, Norfolk. Between 1989 and 1992, 350 BSE-infected cattle were buried there. The site is 800 metres from the river Wensum, and a farmer living near the site has been told that water from a nearby borehole would not be of suitable quality.

The urgency with which Maff's Animal Health offices at Tolworth, near London, are compiling the complete list of sites of buried carcasses is also at variance with the ministry's insistence that they pose no risk to water or ground supplies.

A spokesman pointed out that Seac, the Government's advisory committee on BSE and related diseases, concluded last May that the buried animals "would be unlikely to cause any problems" and "didn't recommend that we uncover the past".

However, farmers are not allowed to bury sheep which die of scrapie - the sheep equivalent of BSE, and the disease which Maff says was the origin of BSE - because experience has shown that the infective agent remains in the land.

A Seac member told The Independent last week that "we would have to do a risk assessment" to be entirely sure what possible threat might remain after so long.

But, he added, "We were eating the stuff in our food at the time.

''The risk that those sites pose is infinitesimal compared to the risk from eating products containing bovine offals before they were banned from food in November 1989."