From Country Life Dec 19th 2002 - Editorial

LOOK OUT FOR THE COMPOST POLICE

Anyone who has wanted up-to-the-minute, authoritative information on the foot-and-mouth outbreak, in all its administrative chaos and rural horror, could find it at the click of a mouse, by visiting http://www.warmwell.com

This website has served as a rapier, puncturing the bladder of Government obfuscation, by publishing a highly informed, topical digest of news about the topic. This was the place to follow the debates, legal actions, ministerial pronouncements and newspaper articles related to foot-and-mouth, not to mention the inquests and inquiries that have come afterwards. We salute Mary Critchley, the organising genius behind warmwell.com, and marvel at how this former teacher, now living in France, has been able to do it. Like warmwell's other regular visitors, we are saddened to read that the site may close down this week.

Perhaps a saviour for warmwell.com may yet be found. It is a sad reflection of our legislators' lack of grip on rural subjects--not least the laws and directives emanating from Brussels--that warmwell.com remains as useful as ever. This is all too vividly illustrated by a recent posting on the unlikely subject of compost. One might have thought that compost could never be a subject of controversy, beyond that generated by the gardening pages of COUNTRY LIFE. It does not belong to the world of sub-committees and legislation, but to the slow-moving, wholesome world of Mr McGregor and Peter Rabbit. People can be passionate about compost: but they are not generally politicians or law makers. It was too good to last.

Compost has now come under the Government spotlight. People who own farm animals--be it so much as a pet pig--will no longer be able to compost on their own premises. Kitchen waste will have to be sent for composting at an approved site elsewhere. 'No person', states the proposed statutory instrument, in language worthy of Leviticus, 'shall... allow any livestock, other than wild birds,' access to his or her compost heap: presumably, wild animals will observe the prohibition by themselves.

Imagine the response of a provincial French farmer or smallholder to prohibition on composting. But in mainland Europe, of course, the regulations will be less severe. In Britain, by contrast, a whole new cadre of compost police, capable of inspecting every smallholding in the country, will be needed if the law is to be properly enforced. The proposal on composting is typical of the Animals By-Products Regulation, due to come into force on April 30, 2003. This also bans the burying of farm animals which have died of natural causes on farms: all well and good, if only the Government were not also proposing to ban hunts, which at present offer the only economical service to collect and dispose of such fallen stock.

Choicest of all is the regulation that will require all blood from abattoirs to be collected and treated at an approved rendering, composting or biogas plant. Quite apart from the cost, particularly to small abattoirs, of transporting blood to an approved plant, there is as yet no rendering plant in Britain capable of doing the job to the new specifications. How is it that British negotiators in Brussels are not able to spot these absurdities, which could be disastrous to small rural businesses, before they hit the statute book? Perhaps because of the civil-service practice of moving personnel between departments every few years, our representatives never acquire the specialist knowledge possessed by their counterparts elsewhere in Europe. Warmwell.com, we need you more than ever.