Muckspreader 15 May 2006
How could a single potato peeling end up costing a farmer 2 million? True the answer is only with difficulty. But it is the kind of question inspired by the latest triumph of the bureaucratic mind to be dumped on Britains 200,000 farmers and growers, thanks to the wisdom of the European Court of Justice. For 15 years Brussels has been working overtime to impose on the EUs citizens a deluge of laws prescribing how we are allowed to dispose of waste. The UK government long insisted that these rules would pose such particular problems for farmers that agriculture should be exempted. But the European Commission took the UK to the ECJ, which ruled that Britains farmers must obey the law just like everyone else.
The result has been new waste management regulations which came into force on May 15. On pain of fines up to 20,000 for each offence, farmers must now comply with rules governing every conceivable aspect of what Brussels defines as waste, from the manure heap in the yard to clippings when they cut back their hedges; from the sprout stalks they leave to rot down in their fields to the rubble needed to repair farm tracks. All this now comes under the eagle eye of officials of the Environment Agency; and woe betide any farmer caught out not filling in all the necessary paper work and asking for all the necessary permissions.
The most ferocious new requirements are reserved for anything that can be described as a dump or tip. Even a single deposit of waste can be defined as a dump (hence that single potato peeling). If you had a tip on your farm before May 15, you cannot now add any new item to it, and you can only keep it for a year before you must pay up to 228 a tonne to have it taken by a licensed waste contractor to a licensed tip. Even the tiniest fragment of hazardous waste, such as a single asbestos cement roof slate, makes the whole lot hazardous waste. You must then pay a lot more to have it taken to one of only 10 sites in the UK still permitted to take such waste.
It may be possible to carry on disposing of most farm waste in a traditional manner, but only so long as one applies in writing to the Environment Agency for an exemption from the rules. One now needs an official exemption, for instance, to burn any wood on the farm, such as the clippings from hedge-trimming (but if the fire contains any paper to get it going, this is a criminal offence). For a manure heap one needs a manure management exemption, exemptions for a compost heap, to allow cabbage stalks to rot in a field, even, it seems, to allow cows to drop cowpats.
The annual cost of all this, just to the farmers of England and Wales, is estimated by those thoughtful officials in Defra at between 28.7 million and 69.8 million. This, we must assume, includes the cost of hiring the hundreds of new officials needed to process more than a million exemption applications. But the worst fate of all is reserved for any farmer who wants to keep a tip in being for more than a year. This requires a full waste management licence, the cost of which can be as much as 2,000,000. Leave that potato peeling on the ground for over a year, and that is what you could be in for
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