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IS THIS THE FUTURE FOR CARCASS DISPOSAL?

LUCY COCKCROFT

09:00 - 27 February 2003

This gruesome scene outside a French farm could soon become reality for the Westcountry when new EU directives come into force this spring.

The directives, effective from May 1, will ban the burial of all casualty farm stock.

Britain is now the only EU member state that still allows this practice. The alternatives to the burial method are not only more expensive, but potentially more hazardous to both human and animal health.

This picture shows how in France pig carcasses are piled high in a large wheelie-bin, and left at the side of the road awaiting removal.

Animal burial on the continent has already been replaced by a fallen stock collection service - one of the possible solutions facing Britain's farmers.

Anthony Gibson, NFU South West regional director, said: "Europe has passed a regulation which says burial is going to be banned, so we will have to have a collection service.

"The photograph shows what happens in France. Along come the flesh vans to pick up the bins, with dead pigs' legs hanging out of the side. In terms of disease spread we are very concerned.

The implications are that this is something British farms are going to have to do."

In the wake of the foot and mouth crisis, this solution seems shocking and many of the region's farming experts fail to see why it is necessary.

Mr Gibson said: "On site burial is good because the diseases stay on the farm and don't travel. It is also the most natural and sustainable method of recycling organic material.

"This photograph adds ammunition to the arguments of those who say that stock burials should not be banned."

But South East Cornwall MP Colin Breed, a member of the Department of the Environment's select committee, says there is a need to ban the burials.

"The problem is that water tables have risen in recent years which means there are less places to dispose of stock and meet biosecurity measures. Burial remains will get into the water."

His concerns are that the British Government has taken too long to implement an acceptable alternative before the ban is in place.

He said: "Britain is late getting its act together, as ever. This is just like the fridge mountains, the Government has done nothing to prepare us for the directives.

"We need an effective way to dispose of animals within the new directive, or we will get the horrors shown in this photograph, and it's totally unacceptable."

In recent years the Government has been very concerned with the subject of biosecurity on British farms, far more so than many other European governments.

Mr Breed said: "French biosecurity measures are nothing like what we have had implemented since the foot and mouth crisis.

"France did not suffer from foot and mouth disease like us, so their regulations are not as stringent and costly as ours. If we need to pick up dead animals from more than one farm we would have to disinfect the vans after each collection."

Ian Johnson, South West NFU spokesman, echoed Mr Breed's sentiments. He says he is worried how, at this late stage, the Government can come up with a solution that is both cost effective and in line with biosecurity measures.

He said: "We all know the Government is unprepared for most contingencies. Politicians have a tendency to legislate without thinking of the consequences. The Government makes a big song and dance about biosecurity measures but the new system will require the animals to be put out for collection.

"The thing is, we need suitable regulations but they are not in place. The Government has buried its head in the sand by not coming up with any viable scheme as yet. The legislation is coming to us in barely two months' time. It is a big problem.

"The NFU calls for the burial ban to be delayed until an affordable and acceptable collection service provided by the Government is put into place. We are worried about the biosecurity implications and the cost implications for farmers."