Councils across Britain could be called on to aid with burials

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The Independent Online

Government ministers are considering ordering councils to bury slaughtered animal carcasses in landfill sites - even if they are in areas where no outbreaks of the foot and mouth infection have occurred.

Government ministers are considering ordering councils to bury slaughtered animal carcasses in landfill sites - even if they are in areas where no outbreaks of the foot and mouth infection have occurred. It would award itself emergency powers to allow the measures to be taken

But agriculture chiefs have promised only animals uninfected by the disease will be disposed of in this way. They have given assurances that environmental considerations will be paramount however the carcasses are disposed of.

Agriculture minister Joyce Quin said that no landfill site would be asked to take more than five per cent of its total capacity in animal waste and that stringent geological tests would eliminate any area which posed a risk to the water supply. Her tone was described by commentators as "pre-emptive reassurance".

The government committee set up to handle the foot-and-mouth crisis has met to discuss ways of speeding up the culling process after figures showed the backlog of dead animals was growing. Expanded measures for the burial of carcasses were on the agenda.

Meanwhile a French agriculture minister has attacked British veterinerary practices as "outdated" and accused the UK of being "a weak link" in the EU's monitoring network.

As the number of slaughtered cow, sheep and pig carcasses awaiting disposal reached 408,000, Agriculture Minister Nick Brown admitted the Government was struggling to meet its slaughter targets. He said he was considering a limited vaccination programme to combat the disease.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has launched an inquiry after a council marksman was captured on video apparently attempting to cull sheep in an open field with a rifle. The white-suited gunman was pictured firing at a herd of free-roaming sheep in the village of Gilwern, Monmouthshire, and then seemingly chasing his wounded targets in a bid to finish them off.

Mr Brown said that although infected animals were being slaughtered within 24 hours of the disease being reported, sheer weight of numbers meant they were finding it difficult to cull those on neighbouring farms within the required 48 hours.

He indicated that he would be prepared to consider a limited vaccination programme, but said that it could not be an alternative to the slaughter policy.

However Anthony Gibson, the National Farmers' Union south west regional director, said: "I do think that they cannot go on slaughtering animals indefinitely and piling up vast mountains of carcasses indefinitely without getting on top of the disease," he said. "

In the seven-day period ending April 8, there was an average of 32 new cases each day compared with 43 in the previous week. Nine new cases were announced, bringing the total to 1,269. A second case has been confirmed in a Northern Ireland dairy herd at a farm near Cookstown, County Tyrone.

In Devon, preparation work on a giant burial pit for carcasses was continuing over the holiday weekend. The site at Ash Moor, near Petrockstowe, which could be ready for use in around seven days, will be capable of taking more than 430,000 sheep carcasses.

The site at Ash Moor, near Petrockstowe, which could be ready for use in within a week, will be capable of taking more than 430,000 sheep carcasses. More than 125,000 carcasses of sheep, cattle and pigs are currently awaiting disposal in Devon, according to latest Maff figures.

The burial site will be used for carcasses of animals uninfected by the disease, but which were slaughtered because they were considered at risk. Meanwhile another 55 military personnel are to be drafted in to help the Ministry of Agriculture cope with the foot-and-mouth outbreak in the county.

The soldiers from the Queen's Dragoon Guards will bring the military presence in the county to 230, said a Maff spokesman. Four more cases of foot-and-mouth were confirmed in the county yesterday, bringing the total to 140.

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