Now industrial waste can feed the animals

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The Government is proposing to allow contaminated industrial waste to be fed to farm animals, the Independent on Sunday has learned.

The proposal, following hard on the row over contaminated cattle feeds which led to BSE, has aroused outrage, but the new Environment Agency is standing by its recommendation.

Under "integrated pollution control" guidance notes to be published this summer by the agency, the calcium oxide dust collected in cement kiln chimneys could be "used in agriculture", including incorporation into animal feeds. In the same document, the EA notes: "This dust tends to concentrate trace impurities in fuel and raw materials such as certain volatile metals and dioxins. Calcium oxide is a prescribed substance and its release to land should be prevented or minimised."

The suggestion to feed the dust to animals has been greeted with incredulity by Friends of the Earth, which points out that the EA is licensing cement makers to use contaminated waste solvents, pesticides and other chemical and industrial residues as fuel. By burning such wastes in cement kilns rather than special-purpose incinerators, producers can save more than pounds 100 a tonne in disposal costs. UK cement makers burn around 200,000 tonnes a year of contaminated solvents, reducing fuel bills by more than pounds 1m a year.

"We are talking about chlorinated solvents containing highly toxic heavy metals like lead, chromium and mercury, which are then deposited in the dust," said FoE pollution campaigner Roger Lilley. "Burning chlorinated solvents in cement kilns results in increased dioxin production, and these are among the most toxic chemicals known - highly carcinogenic and powerful disruptors of the hormone system. We know of no research in the UK that examines the impacts of introducing these substances into animals for human consumption."

The Ministry of Agriculture is also opposed to the idea. "It would be very hard to know just what contaminants you would have in any batch of dust," said a spokesman. "We feel it would be a dodgy proposition."

According to the UK Agricultural Supply Trade Association, which represents the animal feed industry, no cement or lime kiln dust is used in animal feed in this country. However Ukasta's director-general, Jim Reed, refused to guarantee that this would remain the case. "It would be foolish to say a product will never be used in the future," he said.

The EA also maintains that no cement kiln dust is used in animal feed in Britain. However it concedes that it has no definite information. "This is not a process that involves emissions to the environment so it falls outside our scope," a spokesman said. "This is a matter for the Ministry of Agriculture."

According to the Ministry of Agriculture: "There is nothing to prevent people putting cement kiln dust in animal feed right now and they would not have to notify us if they were."

The dust would be included in animal feed as a source of calcium and as a binding agent. According to the EA, the suggestion to include the dust in animal feeds was made because a literature search had revealed that this had been done in other countries.

But Friends of the Earth suspects the EA is not telling the whole truth. "We believe the proposal has been made in order to help the cement industry get rid of large amounts of waste," said Mr Lilley. "The precedent has been set from abroad and the Government is blindly following it without any investigation of its own."