Cow carcasses could be burned in open pits

Click to follow

Ministers have not ruled out burning carcasses of millions of cattle suspected of being infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in open pits on farmland.

The Ministry of Agriculture admitted the option of digging pits was still being discussed as it dismissed suggestions that culled cows were to be dumped at sea.

Under the plan the parts of the animal most likely to harbour the agent that causes BSE would be removed for incineration at high temperature. The remainder would be ground up for marine dumping.

A ministry spokesman denied a newspaper report which outlined the proposal but admitted using authorised pits was among a range of possibilities.

The Government faces a major headache establishing how to dispose of the dead cows, following revelations in the Independent last month that the nine incinerators licensed to destroy cattle could not cope with up to 15,000 culled cows a week.

Agriculture Minister, Douglas Hogg, proposed the phased slaughter and incineration of at least 4 million cattle to the European Union last week in a bid to overturn the export ban on British beef.

The cost of the plan, involving the destruction of all dairy cattle over 30 months old once they had reached the end of their useful lives, is expected to reach pounds 3.7m over six years.

The Government is under pressure from Brussels to order the selective slaughter of herds positively identified with BSE, which farmers hope to avoid.

However the dumping of carcasses in either pits or the sea has been condemned by environmental groups and veterinary surgeons needed to oversee a culling policy have said they would refuse.

Alan Watson, senior campaigner on industry and pollution for the environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth, said: "The prion that causes BSE is very robust and might well survive in the marine food chain. There is every chance that it would find its way into products such as cod liver oil."

He added: "Current waste disposal capacity in the UK is inadequate to deal with a major cattle cull. Burning in open pits is not an option and there is considerable uncertainty about whether the BSE agents would be destroyed.

"Landfilling carcasses risks contaminating vital groundwater supplies."

The British Veterinary Association has pointed out that the State Veterinary Service could not cope with monitoring the burning of carcasses in authorised dumps. BVA president, Bob Stevenson, said many vets, crucial to the success of any mass slaughter, would be reluctant to cooperate.

Letters, page 14