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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.

Your reaction

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.
Janet Fanning, England

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.
S.Jackson, England

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.
Emma T, Australia

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!
Gill, UK

Let us return to self sufficiency, with small abattoirs and butchers

Irene, UK
Stop all this nonsense about fires, and kill and bury animals on farmers' own land. That way at least the animals' waste provides fertiliser for grazing for future stock. Better still, stop pandering to the mighty agri-barons who wish to export their meat. Vaccinate the poor sheep, cattle and pigs and let us return to self sufficiency, with small abattoirs and butchers' shops replacing the cardboard, flavourless meat sold in supermarkets.
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?
Jan, Scotland

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.
Tracy Lockett, UK

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.
Mick B, U.K.

The cure is now worse than the disease

Annabel Burton, England
Phoenix the heifer who survived five days next to his dead parent is now being raised as a family pet. The continued bungling of the Government has produced this massive problem of disposal, and in my view the cure is now worse than the disease. Vaccination is not an option purely on financial grounds. It is time we brought in some humanity and perspective. We are sick to the stomach with this appalling tragedy. Time to stop firefighting and let it now run its course.
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?
Joe, Scotland

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.
Evelien Gilbert, Netherlands

The government should press ahead with its policies on culling and disposal of the carcasses

Sally Poxon, UK
Instead of trying to please all the people all the time, the Government should press ahead with its policies on culling and disposal of the carcasses - these are desperate times. The "NIMBY" (Not In My Back Yard) people complaining about pyres should be ashamed. They should be asked whether they ever have a bonfire in their garden, or attend a bonfire on November 5th? The dioxins and other pollutants released by these "recreational" fires are no worse than those released by the pyres. What research is done into the effects of the garden bonfire?
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.
Fiona Sewell, Cornwall

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.
Doug Kemp, UK

No one thinks ahead anymore

Vicky Bagnall, UK
The way the foot-and-mouth crisis has been handled is appalling. They did a far better job back in the 1960's before all the technology we have today. It is ridiculous that hundreds of rotting carcasses are lying over the fields and now they suddenly decide burning is a health risk! Couldn't they have decided how they would get rid of the dead animals before they went ahead and killed them all? It seems to me no one thinks ahead anymore but go plunging in with a "there is no risk to the public" followed by a "small risk to the public" and finally an all-out major health scare.
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!
Steve Clark, Milton Keynes UK.

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.
Catherine S, England

To be honest you can't win, so why bother trying?

Phil Parker, UK
You can't bury carcasses because they infect the water table, can't burn them because of the pollution, can't put them in incinerators because cows are bigger than humans so won't go through the doors. To be honest you can't win, so why bother trying? We can eat the meat without getting the disease and very few (1%) of the animals die from it.
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?
Julian, UK

I can't stand all this blustering about poor little animals being eaten. Grow up and eat steak!!!!
Major Salisbury, UK

I contracted the illness as a young child in the late 1970's

Bill Bows, UK
I contracted the illness as a young child in the late 1970's after swimming in a pond on Wimbledon Common. Although the doctors were puzzled at first by my symptoms, they concluded eventually that I had foot-and-mouth - blisters on the hands, feet and in my mouth. I don't remember too much about how I felt while suffering from foot and mouth but my mother assures me I had a slight fever and was off school for about a week. Hope the record will be set straight now!
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.
Steve B, USA

We've had cancel our TT due to your Government's incompetence... thanks. Where do I send the bill when my hotel goes bust?
Andy, Isle of Man

With all these disposal risks, why don't we just make all the meat into sausages and hamburgers and then eat them?
Peter, Bristol

We have not been advised by anyone

Anthony B, UK
I live on a farm in Burnley, Lancashire which for the moment is a "safe" zone. But, we have found out that a landfill quarry across the road from us is going to be used for the disposal of infected/ suspected animals. We have not been advised by anyone, we heard it on the radio and to bring animals into a clear zone makes no sense at all. My main fear is that living within close proximity (approx 250 yards) and now the suspected human contracting the disease, what am I going to do??
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.
Jock Smith, Scotland

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.
Prof Alex Cumble MDE, UK

If they can vaccinate animals, why can't they vaccinate those directly exposed to the disease (like the workers handling the carcasses)?
Jordan Medeiros, USA

Napalm is not as dangerous to handle as a tanker of petrol, so where is the problem?

Peter Thomson, UK
Vaccination should have been used right from the start. It neatly avoids all the disposal issues and the horrendous pictures and damage to tourism and the rural economy. I have yet to hear a farmer in an infected area who wanted to see his/her healthy animals slaughtered rather than vaccinated. If the vaccines are not good enough, we should be investing in vaccine development, not slaughter. Now that we have piles of carcasses, napalm is the obvious solution. See the article in New Scientist earlier this year. Carcasses don't need to be moved. The napalm can be used where they were slaughtered. Napalm is not as dangerous to handle as a tanker of petrol, so where is the problem? People in authority are refusing to take decisions and destroying our countryside as a result.
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.
Pauline Randall, Scotland

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.
V. Raingeval, England

Since when did so many of the general public care about the treatment of these animals?

Joanne, Netherlands
Let's face it! The government will never win. What with one lot of the general public whining about vaccination and another about burying the dead animals and yet another lot complaining about burning the carcasses! What do you want the government to do? Leave the carcasses where they are to rot? No solution is probably foolproof but something has to be done. It also seems to me to have become a bit of the not-in-my-back-garden policy, where the public are acknowledging that something needs to be done as long as it's nowhere near them. And since when did so many of the general public care about the treatment of these animals? The majority of them probably didn't give a damn last time they were tucking into a nice roast lamb dinner!
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.
Kevan Kenny, England

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.
Tharg, UK

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!
Ruth, Northern Ireland/Scotland

There seems to be little understanding about just how dangerous dioxins are

Mark, Wales
There are other options (burial & vaccination) and the advantage is that these do not give off dioxins. There seems to be little understanding about just how dangerous dioxins are. If an industry was producing the amount of pollution that these fires have caused, then not only would it have been closed down but it would have been fined heavily too. As for the fatuous argument that smokers face greater exposure to dioxins than they would from the pyres (which is a dubious statistic if ever I heard one), I find it outrageous that people feel pumping large quantities of cancer-causing chemicals into the sky from burning carcasses - which are 'natural' - is ok. If it was industry they'd be up in arms!
Mark, Wales

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?
Alan Slade, Scotland

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.
Paul Stancer, Hong Kong

The disposal risks are far too great!

John Xavier Sayers Butler, England
It is my firm belief that vaccination is the only way forward. The slaughter of cows in one area before they are transported half the way across the country is hardly helping to contain this disease. Now we even talking about using military-grade weaponry just to speed up the destruction! The Tories should launch an election poster with the title: 'Farmageddon' - coming to a business, tourist or farming community near you! The disposal risks are FAR too great! Vaccinate now, to avoid further bloodshed!
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?
Tony, UK

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?
Paul Miller, UK

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?
Robert Crosby, Nottingham, UK

Vaccination, not culling, should have been the response from the outset

Khan, UK
The Government must stop pandering to the farmers. Vaccination, not culling, should have been the response from the outset. The only reason it wasn't was because of farmers whining about the economic impact. As a result, the lucrative tourist industry has been sacrificed to protect the much less lucrative livestock industry. Meanwhile, farmers in Cumbria plead in vain for a vaccination programme to protect their animals and the NFU opposes it because it would be 'unfair' to farmers whose animals have been culled! Farmers and their union, not the Government, are to blame for this crisis. Let's not forget that.
Khan, UK

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.
Richard Miller-Williams, Britain

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.
Cecil LeRoy Chesser, USA

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.
Suresh C.S, India

There are only so many methods to dispose of animals, they cannot be magically removed

Robert W, United Kingdom
Once again people are over-reacting about minor problems while missing out on major issues. People are complaining about the dangerous emissions from burning animals or burying them, whilst at the same time smoking away - one must remember that tobacco contains dioxins as well. There are only so many methods to dispose of animals, they cannot be magically removed. The small number of animals that can be burnt in a crematorium will not remove the dangerous build-up of decomposing bodies, and burning a small number of animals on individual farms will mean using more wood/coal than a mass site - leading to more pollution.
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!
Jeff Scholey, UK

We can't just leave thousands of disinfectant-soaked carcasses rotting in the fields. How about dumping them mid-Atlantic?
Nigel, UK

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.
Peter G. Nichols, United Kingdom

This senseless culling of healthy animals should stop

David K, England
As we have patently lost our "foot-and-mouth-free status", vaccination should be introduced immediately and this senseless culling of healthy animals should stop. I'm no veggie bunny-hugger, but the sight of all those animals being slaughtered for no good reason makes me feel ashamed to be human.
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.
Matthew Salter, London, UK

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.
David Moran, Scotland/Australia

Why can't we use incinerators, like in a crematorium?

Angela Severn-Morrell, England
Why can't we use incinerators, like in a crematorium, are they just as dangerous, or are there too many people dying in the areas of F&M to be able to put animal carcasses through. I know it's not very nice, to think of grannys' bones being mixed up with that of a cow or sheep, but surely, these incinerators are a lot more environmentally friendly than these huge pyres. By the way, I also believe that burying the carcasses is more dangerous, than burning them.
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?
John B, UK

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.
Sarah Jones, USA

Why is the government putting lives at risk?

Elaine, UK
When the countryside smells like a bad barbecue and vets are warning us that foot and mouth can be transmitted in the air - why is the government putting lives at risk. People living close to these pyres are liable to suffer from smoke inhalation and all the conditions arising from this - WHY? Let us do what we do to human remains - bury the dead and the disease!
Elaine, UK

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 health issue.
The whole approach to the FMD problem appears to have been driven by political expediency.
Brian Beesley, United Kingdom

Why is this issue only coming to a media head now?

Phil W, UK
Why is this issue only coming to a media head now? Why are we not digging more lime pits and burying the affected carcasses within the farms where the outbreaks have occurred? Do those making the decisions about the location of these pits and animal pyres, have to contend with any on their doorstep?
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.
Michelle W, England

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