Muckspreader 28/03/03

Private Eye

First they gave us the 'fridge mountain', littering the countryside with dumped freezer cabinets. Now stand by for the 'dead animal mountain', as farmers face a new law which threatens to litter roadside verges with the corpses of livestock they are no longer allowed to bury on their own land.

And the cause is the same. A diktat from Brussels, which Defra never wanted, which is impossible to comply with except at ludicrous cost, yet which Defra's officials will now enforce with all the zeal for which they are legendary.

Animal rights activists will no doubt be shocked to know that upwards of half a million lambs, calves, pigs and old cows die on Britain's farms each year, not to feed the slavering appetites of human carnivores, but because of accidents, sickness and old age. No one probably ever told them that animals can die of natural causes. But for the farmer it is just a sad fact of life, meaning another body to be disposed of. And until recently the solution would have been simple. Either it meant a call to the knacker, for the fallen stock to be turned into pet food. Or to the hunt kennels, for it to be fed to the hounds. Or the corpse could simply be buried in some quiet corner of the farm, to feed the worms. Environmentally-friendly recycling, it might have been called, if anyone needed jargon to justify anything so natural and harmless.

But those options are vanishing one by one. The knackers have been closed down by BSE. The hounds may have to be shot, thanks to the fox lovers. And now the European Commission has come up with regulation 1774/2002 under which, as from May 1, it will become a criminal offence for the farmer to dispose of any dead animal in the way we still dispose of human beings, by burying them in the ground. Instead, under what Defra calls the National Fallen Stock collection and disposal scheme, the farmers will have to place their dead animals in wheelie bins, to be picked up by some friendly trucker and carried across the countryside to a licensed rendering plant to be turned into powder. Defra attaches particular importance to keeping a full record of every transaction, just in case there might be any problem with disease, although it hasn't yet worked out how to prevent diseased corpses spreading infection from farm to farm as the truck winds across the countryside on a 100-mile journey to the nearest rendering plant.

Then of course there is the little matter of cost. It hardly breaks the bank to get out the digger to provide a suitable grave for an old dairy cow or a clutch of stillborn lambs. But the renderers and their truckers will not be providing their services for nothing. Anything up to £250 has been quoted for a cow. Even those lambs chucked into the wheelie bin could cost £15 or £25 for a collection. Defra itself estimates the total cost to the farming community at £20 million a year. "It is for the livestock industry", pronounces Rosa Klebb (aka Mrs Beckett) "like other industries to work out best how to deal with its waste problems and to pay their associated costs". So even though this particular 'waste problem' has been conjured up entirely by the EU and Rosa herself, the farmers must pay. And if you're wondering why there isn't an outcry from continental farmers about the new law, that's because in most other EU countries their governments have agreed to foot the bill.