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EU RULES RENEW THREAT OF PYRES OVER FMD

 JASON GROVES

09:00 - 29 March 2003
 
 New European rules on the disposal of livestock could force ministers
to order the use of pyres in any future foot and mouth outbreak -
despite promises that they would never be used again. The sight of huge
pyres ablaze in the countryside was one of the most ghastly images of
the 2001 foot and mouth disaster and was blamed for causing massive
damage to the rural tourist industry in hard-hit areas like the
Westcountry. Officials also raised a number of serious health concerns
about the use of pyres, which was widespread during the early weeks of
the crisis in Devon.

In the wake of the 2001 crisis, ministers acknowledged the scale of
public revulsion surrounding the use of pyres and pledged that they
would only be used as a last resort.

But yesterday it emerged that new European rules on the disposal of
animal by-products could mean that pyres will play a major role again as
other carcass disposal methods are ruled out. Malcolm Bell, chief
executive of South West Tourism, said he was "appalled" by the prospect
that pyres could be used again.

He said: "The sight of mediaeval pyres burning in the countryside were
what did the damage to tourism last time and it would be appalling if
they were used again. They should be removed from the plan altogether.

"If burial is going to be ruled out then the Government has to draw up
plans to increase capacity for proper incineration at short notice. This
is supposed to be a contingency plan and pyres should play no part in
it."

Ministers have previously said that they want to see carcasses disposed
of at licensed landfill sites, once the limited incineration and
rendering facilities are at capacity. But in its new foot and mouth
contingency plan the Government was forced to admit that the European
rules, which come into force next week, "could preclude this option in
2003 and beyond". With on-farm burial also ruled out by the new
regulations, which are introduced next month, the only option left in
the plan is the use of pyres.

John Burnett, Lib-Dem MP for Torridge and West Devon, said the use of
pyres would be "unacceptable". Mr Burnett urged the Government to step
up precautions against the disease entering the country and to increase
capacity at incineration and rendering plants.

He added: "Pyres blighted this area two years ago - not just for those
of us living down here, but also for our tourist industry. They pollute
the atmosphere and there was always a suspicion that they actually
helped spread the disease. It would be unacceptable for them to be used
again."

Ministers were forced to publish the contingency plan yesterday as a
result of Opposition amendments to the Animal Health Act.

The plan also acknowledges that the blanket closure of footpaths seen in
2001 was a mistake, which will not be repeated. The ban led to
widespread perceptions that the countryside was "closed" and was blamed
for causing massive damage to rural tourist businesses.

Although the ban was justified on the grounds of disease control, the
new plan notes that "there is no veterinary justification for closing
all footpaths and preventing all public access to land".

The plan also leaves open the question of whether vaccination would be
used to deal with any future outbreak. Although it will be considered as
an option, little work appears to have been done to persuade the food
industry to take meat from vaccinated animals.