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Wednesday, 2 May, 2001, 08:54 GMT 09:54 UK
Foot-and-mouth: Are the disposal risks too great?
As the foot-and-mouth crisis continues the burning of thousands of affected animals is going ahead in Devon despite protests from locals about cancer risks.
Environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth (FoE) has raised concerns about the level of carcinogenic dioxins which have been released by animal pyres in different parts of the UK.
The Department of Environment has confirmed that fires lit during the first six weeks of the foot-and-mouth crisis released 63g of dioxins into the atmosphere - 18% of the UK's average annual emissions.
The Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, has said no "totally risk-free way" exists to dispose of the animal carcasses. He said pyres were located to minimise health risks to local people.
Should the burning stop? Are the disposal risks too great and will we regret them at a later date? Or are we only taking the best available option?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The whole question of disposal is rapidly going from the sublime to the ridiculous. It has to be said that this situation should never have arisen in the first place. Vaccination has to be the way forward. The needless slaughter of these animals has been callous and mostly inhumanely carried out. As for burials at sea - isn't there enough pollution in our seas? Let's go dump a couple of million carcasses in there and feed the fish!! I despair of mankind and his relentless efforts to eradicate one way or another, everything that dares to share this planet with him.
All organic waste should be composted. It is a low cost natural process that, with today's in-vessel processing technologies, can convert organic waste (including carcasses) within 14 days, without producing any harmful emissions, into an inert product that has been sterilised by its own internal heat and biological actions, reduced in bulk by about one third and which would pose no threat to local water tables when buried on the farm in question. Culled animals would thus not be lying around on farms for weeks on end, as they would immediately be processed on the farm and composted and buried, there would be no transport needs (with the associated risk of spreading the infections) and no fires or mass landfill burials.
Why weren't the risks properly worked out before the burning started, and why is it still continuing? If the risks are so serious, it ought to be stopped immediately.
At last the case of Phoenix has brought some sanity to the tragic situation but doesn't it show yet again the way this government reacts to public opinion? It is OK to kill millions of sheep and cows but give one a name and put it on TV and suddenly all of the government's scientists are wrong!
Irene , UK
To burn or not to burn - one thing is for sure, we can't leave the carcasses to rot. If FMD has gotten into the wildlife as has been suggested, there's not much point in continuing with the mass slaughter. Perhaps if they have to burn, at least they could find sites which would be far enough away from any form of population? And also burn more on the site of the infection, which would make resulting fires smaller?
The bodies of the animals should be buried ASAP but as far as a risk once they are buried, I don't think so. If they are buried deep enough, there would be no risk to humans. What does make me sick is so many healthy animals being culled in the first place. In any election I'm afraid Labour can forget my vote from now on. I'm sure thousands more people feel the same way as myself and that will certainly make a difference.
One thing that alarms me about the level of dioxins being released into the atmosphere, under normal circumstances they would, presumably, have been released into the food chain and eaten.
Annabel Burton, England
Napalm has been mentioned then discounted almost immediately. If this can destroy the carcasses quicker and more effectively, without releasing toxins into the air, why is it being dismissed? Yes, the name takes us back to Vietnam, but if it can have an effect for good, might that not give it a better name?
So what are we to believe... is it ok to kill hundreds of thousands of animals but when we talk about people the same does not apply? I mean they are walking sources of infection, aren't they? The whole killing thing stinks a hell of a lot more than the pyres. There should not have been pyres in the first place. There was absolutely no reason to kill all those animals. How can anybody possibly condone the mass slaughter of so many innocent animals while all they've got is a flu-like condition? Put them in a nice barn with lots of fluids and in a couple of weeks they will be right as rain.
Sally Poxon, UK
As carcasses mount, I recall an article in the New Scientist (March 24) in which the use of napalm for their destruction was discussed. Alarming though this sounds it has, apparently, the following advantages:
It only needs to be sprayed on and set alight (no pyre building).
A carcass is destroyed in 60 seconds.
It is 'relatively easy and safe to use'.
There are no dangerous fumes.
There are no dangerous by-products from the burning.
It is cheap - about £2 per carcass.
It is very transportable by two people.
This method was used during an anthrax outbreak last year in Nevada, so has been tested. I wonder why MAFF have been so circumspect about the possibility.
One of the reasons given for the mass cull and against vaccination is that we would not be able to export our meat and dairy products. Why then do we import meat from countries where the disease is endemic - indeed our own armed forces are feed on beef from Uruguay, why? Because it is cheap! So the UK has become the dumping place for any cheap meat regardless of how it is produced, to allow the supermarkets to control the price of meat produced in the UK.
Vicky Bagnall, UK
We have tried burying them and we have tried burning them by traditional means and neither have been effective. The crisis has already caused severe damage not only to the farming industry's image and future but also to the UK tourist industry. The Americans already have the image that the UK is a great burning pyre of animals and that contact with any farm creature will either drive you mad or make your feet fall off. Recent suggestions to cheaply destroy the mounds of dead animals with napalm might be cost effective and environmentally viable, but can you imagine the images the US media would paint. The English countryside transformed to resemble a Vietnamese war zone with fields ablaze in spectacular explosions? It doesn't bear thinking about!
I live in Devon, 10 miles away from the Holsworthy pyre. Since even before the Holsworthy pyre my house and the estate I live in has been filled with the stench and smoke from burning animals. This smoke travels so far, and if it is dangerous to the animals then burning is obviously a bad way to dispose of carcasses. The smell is disgusting and makes you feel sick after a while. Devon is suffering badly. I travel to Exeter and animals I see alive on the way there in the morning are replaced by burning pyres in the afternoon. Surely there must be a better way to deal with the issue.
Phil Parker, UK
I see that German nuclear waste is heading to Sellafield. How about an exchange programme where we send back the infected livestock?
I can't stand all this blustering about poor little animals being eaten. Grow up and eat steak!!!!
Bill Bows, UK
There have been suggestions that the animals should be disposed of with napalm bombs. This is a very dangerous weapon to use when in the hands of inexperienced personnel. I suggest you should recruit former members of the Green Berets who displayed their expertise with this weapon in Vietnam. I doubt if they would have any difficulty targeting dead animals despite their previous experience with humans.
We've had cancel our TT due to your Government's incompetence... thanks. Where do I send the bill when my hotel goes bust?
With all these disposal risks, why don't we just make all the meat into sausages and hamburgers and then eat them?
Anthony B, UK
It is impossible to appease all the competing concerns. There are those who are worried about carcasses rotting in the fields and others worried about the method of their disposal. The Government is dealing as best it can with a problem that is not of its making.
The real threat lies in the water supply. Dangerous toxins will seep into the soil and will find their way into the underground rivers that run into our reservoirs. This could have a very serious effect on long term health.
Injecting animals with serum is the best answer, I am convinced.
If they can vaccinate animals, why can't they vaccinate those directly exposed to the disease (like the workers handling the carcasses)?
Peter Thomson, UK
This situation has been a fiasco from the start. The reaction of government officials was too slow in the first week, then the option for mass slaughter was instigated. All for a disease that is not fatal in most animals and doesn't generally affect humans (unlike BSE). If they wanted to stop the spread then vaccinations and isolation should have been used from the outset. Instead we have seen thousands of animals killed - in circumstances that would have closed most slaughterhouses - and then disposed of using means that will affect the environment for years and cause illness to those living close by.
The pyres are spreading toxic chemicals and, no doubt, foot-and-mouth. The breakdown of buried carcasses will likely spread into the water table along with the huge quantities of lime used, and we now have Michael Meacher suggesting napalm! We are in a situation where no one knows where to go - one desperate measure succeeds another. And perhaps when this is finally ended someone will tell us exactly how many of the slaughtered animals actually had foot-and-mouth and how many were killed 'just in case'. I don't think that the numbers will be very attractive.
Killing animals which have "flu" because of our concerns for our exports has no integrity. The human race thinks it is superior to all and therefore can dispose of minerals, animals and plants at will. We are superior to all, but our superiority gives us mostly duties of care, not wanton arrogance to pillage natural resources. Our scientists make us believe as a society that we live independently of everything. The sad truth is that we are weaving the rope to hang ourselves.
Joanne, Netherlands ex UK
I have heard suggestions that napalm be used to burn carcasses. The military have had a 'bit part' role in this crisis to date and surely have the resources to destroy carcasses quickly and effectively with minimal environmental impact.
The risk to human health from burning the carcasses is probably far less than the risk from eating animal flesh. How many of those who are complaining about the burning eat meat and will develop heart disease? Probably quite a lot.
I think that burning the
animals was the only way that
this outbreak could be kept under control,
Yes, a lot of healthy animals were killed, but
if they weren't killed on precaution, they
would have been killed anyway
because they would have caught the disease at a later stage.
FMD is not under control. People only think that
it is because it is not mentioned on the news
any more, and narrow-minded people think that it has gone away. FMD is not something that the government or news people can sweep under the
carpet. It is and will be around for a long time to come!
Now that the 'impossible' has happened and the foot and mouth virus has been transferred to a human, are we going to see mass culling of the human population within a 3 mile radius of wherever the affected vet has been in the last month?
The UK government has shown how inept they are in handing this situation. Foot-and-mouth is only a problem for countries that export meat. In Hong Kong the disease has been endemic for years, but as they only grow meat for local consumption it's not an issue. A small amount of animals routinely die due to the disease, even some of those that have been inoculated, but the majority of the meat supply remains unaffected. Paradoxically the UK government's desire to keep UK herds free from the disease has intensified the current outbreak, as it has reduced the animal's natural immunity to the disease. The desire of the UK food industry to maximise profit has time and again put our food supply in jeopardy. Agriculture has had the government in its pocket for too long. It has been allowed to get away with dubious practices, which in industries such as pharmaceuticals would have resulted in jail sentences for those involved.
John Xavier Sayers Butler, England
Since foot-and-mouth is pretty much non-fatal to animals, and virtually non-transmittable to humans, why can't we eat the slaughtered livestock? The price of meat would come down to reasonable levels (I suppose the supermarkets would hate that...) and we wouldn't be messing up the countryside with huge pits and bonfires. In fact, as it is non-fatal, isn't it obscene that the animals are slaughtered wholesale anyway?
Firstly, as a vegetarian, it greatly frustrates me to see the effort that is being extended to rectify the farming industry's self-inflicted wounds. Why should I have to pay for the slaughter of animals and then pay compensation for farmers, on top of the continued governmental buoying of meat subsidies? If meat is so necessary then demand will ensure a steady supply and the consumer that wants to buy meat can pay the full cost from their own pocket, but instead the taxpayer is forced to prop up a dying industry by subsidising prices and absorbing the costs of this industrial blip. Secondly, why do the government not act so swiftly to save jobs and support other industries? With 100,000 jobs lost in the past month and a half in the telecoms industry, why doesn't the government give back some of the £22bn they took in 3G money to support an industry that they themselves are crippling?
No matter what course of action the Government proposes, it seems that there is always someone (usually who can see no further than the end of their own nose) who objects. It was the same with the "vaccination" issue - narrow self-interest, I suggest?
There is a "small but significant" risk of BSE prions being spread by the smoke from pyres, according to a scientist on a recent radio programme. The prions are heat resistant, and could lead to cases of new variant CJD in humans. 0.5% of cattle are thought to be infected with BSE, and animals culled because of BSE were at first burnt on pyres until it was realised that the smoke could spread the disease to other cattle (before the risk to humans was known). Special incinerators were then constructed to dispose of BSE cattle.
The solution is to not have millions of animals providing inefficient food for humans in the first place. If we eat the plants, instead of feeding them to animals, we solve dozens of problems including this one.
It looks like everyone is concerned
about the effects of mass burning
on humans. No one is concerned
about the poor animals who are
raised in sickening conditions and
mercilessly slaughtered so that the
animals can be eaten.
Just goes to show how civilised the
present civilisation is.
Robert W, United Kingdom
What else can you do with them? It appears that all sensitivities towards farmers and their plight have now gone and the general public have gone back to their usual selfish ways. The ironic thing is that most of the people complaining probably smoke!
We can't just leave thousands of disinfectant-soaked carcasses rotting in the fields. How about dumping them mid-Atlantic?
The disposal of animal carcasses seems to be the crux of the problem. Perhaps, this is a silly idea but why not use abandoned coalmines? Assuming that the workings are below the natural water table, I cannot see any environmental impact.
David K, England
Much has been made of the relative risks of the foot-and-mouth virus and GM pollen being blown about on the wind. The wind that blows the virus 40 miles is indeed the same one that only blows GM pollen 50 yards. It is also the same wind that blows beach balls only a matter of a few feet, and London buses not at all. How can this be? It is because, remarkably, the distance that a body may be blown by the wind is directly proportional to its weight.
The pyres have probably produced more in the way of particulate emissions, CO2, SO2, NOx and other
pollutants than the annual use of cars in the UK this year. But I guess when the pollution-figures are shown to go up, it will be car-drivers that the Greenpeaceniks of the UK will still be complaining about.
Angela Severn-Morrell, England
Apparently the wind can blow this virus 40 miles or more across land. I don't suppose it really helps when fires help lift the virus hundreds of feet into the air, along with dioxins and all sorts of other unpleasant chemicals. I am also curious how it is that this wind is apparently not capable of blowing genetically-modified pollen more than 50 yards?
Why should the burning stop now. They've already killed all the poor animals thinking that would solve the problem, thanks to everyone so eager to listen to these "brilliant" government officials. We've got one over here who is equal in terms of his incapacity to feel true compassion towards anyone or anything.
This Government once again shows its appalling ineptitude
by allowing a problem affecting only the productivity of
a few farm animals to become inflated into a major public
Phil W, UK
Once again, it's a case of act first, think later. When human lives are put at risk, it is vital the government acts quickly and responsibly. Whether it's already too late, is something I fear we will learn in the coming months and years.
23 Apr 01 | UK
Health fears over burning pyres
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