Doubt over vets' role in killing; The BSE risk: Ministers ponder logist ics of mass slaughter as authorities reveal death of another victim

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The Independent Online
The co-operation of Britain's veterinary surgeons in any planned mass slaughter of cattle aimed at eliminating BSE was yesterday put in serious doubt.

Bob Stevenson, president of the British Veterinary Association, said crucial to the success of any mass slaughter would be the supervision of the killing by both Ministry of Agriculture vets and private practice vets. He said the public would demand that vets were present to see that the killings were humane and that adequate precautions on the further spread of the disease were taken.

However Mr Stevenson said that calls for a mass slaughter meant "science was being left behind" and was an unneccessary sacrifice. "I would like to think vets would co-operate. But there is serious question over whether many will have anything to do with this."

He added: "In 1967 both government vets and private practice vets formed a cohesive force to deal with foot and mouth disease.Today that cohesion does not exist."

In Cheshire a vet, Francis Anthony, said: "There will be no co-operation from the veterinary profession. Unless this slaughter is supervised by vets, the public will not be reassured about anything."

Mr Anthony said colleagues, who studied the relevant scientific evidence, believed mass slaughter was unnecessary. "We are being asked to take part in a Frankensteinish slaughter."

If the Government do a U-turn on their response to the BSE crisis the most likely option would be the culling of older cows, as proposed by the NFU - some 15,000 a week for three years.

The logistical difficulties facing the Government are enormous.

Ministers have so far not ruled out the prospect of burying carcasses in authorised dumps or using household incinerators. MAFF has admitted the removal and destruction of older cows from the food chain which could see mass pits being dug on farms, animals shot with a bolt pistol and their carcasses burnt, is an option.

There are only nine incineration plants in Britain licensed to handle around 1,000 cattle a week. These are already destroying 300 cows infected with BSE each week. Only 7 per cent of the older cows earmarked for culling could be coped with, a shortfall of around 750,000 head per year if the NFU proposal is adopted.

The use of household incinerators was dismissed by Phil Burns, of HM Pollution Inspectorate: "The sheer practicalities make it impossible. They are designed to burn paper and plastic not a tonne of meat."

Emission standards from 15 of the 35 domestic waste incinerators in Britain have failed to meet EU standards and are expected to be shut down by the end of the year.

However the Licensed Animal Slaughterers and Salvage Association, is convinced that if the NFU plans were reduced, incinerators could cope with around 3,000 a week, operating around the clock, seven days a week.

Chris Ashworth, technical adviser, said dairy cows at the end of their life should be culled and only those from herds with a confirmed BSE case in the past three years.

"That would bring the figure down to between 100,000 and 150,000 a year. That number would decline over five years to around 50,000 a year. We could cope with that."