...The mountain is all that's left of 200,000 cattle that once grazed our pastures green

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The Independent Online
Six warehouses in Britain hold the strangest and saddest of all farm surplus mountains. More than a million cows have been turned into great mounds of grey brown powder - the meat and bone meal which remain after the great slaughter of cattle caused by the BSE epidemic.

Three warehouses are full, and the Government's Intervention Board for Agriculture - which runs the slaughter programme - has had to press three others into service. The same board used to store the notorious grain and beef mountains produced by the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy.

This week the Government proudly declared that - as promised - it had cleared the backlog of cattle waiting to be killed under the over-30-month- old scheme. Some 1,100,000 animals have died.

But it still has to deal with the huge and growing hazardous waste disposal problem posed by the 135,000 tonnes of powder - what remains of the cattle flesh and bone after it has been minced, cooked, heat-dried and ground up by the rendering industry.

The Government says all of this material has to be incinerated to destroy the BSE agent - an extraordinarily resilient protein. But very little of the incineration capacity has been secured. The burning has to happen at 850C or higher to ensure the infectivity is destroyed.

Meanwhile, fresh meat and bone meal and tallow continue to arrive in the stockpiles. For a start, there are 230,000 cattle which are now frozen in cold stores.

Then there are the 18,000 or so cattle which will continue to be slaughtered each week now that the backlog has been cleared. Finally, there are another100,000 dairy cattle to be killed in a further cull which was announced by the Government this week.

The Government has been considering the option of burning these wastes in huge coal and oil burning power stations for six months. They alone have the capacity to consume all of the material within a few weeks.

Yesterday neither the Government nor the generating companies would hazard a guess about when or where burning might start.

A spokesman for National Power said it would cost about pounds 5m to make the necessary modifications to a power station boiler in order to burn the meat and meal powder.

The Intervention Board has one incineration contract with a toxic waste disposal company, Rechem. But its high temperature incinerator at Hythe, in Hampshire, will only handle 20,000 tonnes of meat and bone meal a year.

The board said it hoped to reach an agreement with an un-named company to burn more meat and bone meal. It also wants to burn large numbers of carcasses directly without rendering and hopes to have 10 incinerators in action soon. It already has a contract with another incinerator to burn 2,000 carcasses a week, and hopes to quadruple this.

Jean Alty, of the Intervention Board, said: "There's no problem or health hazard in storing [the carcasses] for a long time but we'd prefer not to."