Health fears over burning pyres
Monday, 23 April, 2001, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk/newsid_1292000/1292122.stm
The carcasses of thousands of culled animals have been burning for hours in Devon despite the concerns of residents and environmentalists.
Up to 4,000 culled animals are being consumed by flames at a huge incineration site near Holsworthy, Devon.
Environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth (FoE) has raised concerns about the level of carcinogenic dioxins which have been released by animal pyres all over the UK since the foot-and-mouth outbreak began.
Environment Minister Michael Meacher, who is also chairman of the Rural Task Force during the foot-and-mouth crisis, conceded the cancer-causing dioxins released by the pyres were a health risk.
But he insisted there was no risk-free option for eradicating the disease and measures were in place to minimise risk.
"Our preferred option is rendering or incineration at an industrial plant but given the limited capacity and scale of slaughter, burning in the fields is unavoidable," told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
He said he believed the Department of Health was launching an immediate investigation into the effect of the Devon pyre on public health.
Public health guidelines about the pyres are also due to be released later this week and officials are to monitor pollutants from the pyres hourly, he said.
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.
FoE has also called on Prime Minister Tony Blair to explain why warnings were ignored about the risks of a foot-and-mouth outbreak.
It said the government was repeatedly warned by EU experts that intensive farming and large scale animal movements would increase the risk of spreading foot-and-mouth and other diseases.
On Monday FoE will also ask whether Agriculture Minister Nick Brown was told of the warnings from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and the EU Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare - and if so, whether he alerted his Cabinet colleagues.
The call comes on the day that Mr Brown and Chief Vet Jim Scudamore must also face a grilling about their handling of the crisis before a panel of MPs on the Commons Agriculture Select Committee.
Mr Brown is expected to be quizzed about the government's change of heart on vaccination, as well as on delays in the introduction of the Army.
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has said studies showed the dioxin releases were "the equivalent of two Bonfire Nights".
But he conceded that, in Devon, animal carcasses had been left rotting in the open air because of difficulties finding means of disposing of them.
Mr Hoon stressed that officials were working "round the clock" to provide a mass burial site.
Twelve more pyres in Cumbria are burning or smouldering, but there will be no more built until the Department of Health reaches a decision on the danger caused by burning carcasses.
A Maff spokesman said: "We are awaiting further instruction from the Department of Health on, if and how, it is safe to continue."
The department has already ordered the dismantling of a pyre of 750 sheep and cows in Cumbria because it is close to a residential area.