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Foot-and-mouth pyres defended

LONDON, England -- The British government has defended the use of giant pyres to dispose of animals killed in the mass foot-and-mouth cull, after health fears were raised.

Environment Minister Michael Meacher told parliament that while rendering, or melting down, carcasses remained the favoured option, incineration "in properly controlled industrial plants" and burial "in registered landfill sites" would continue to be used.

Earlier on Monday a leading British scientist warned that such huge pyres could be spreading dioxins.

Jim Bridges, Professor of Toxicology at Surrey University, told BBC Radio 4's The World at One programme that dioxins released into the atmosphere could suppress the immune system, produce cancer, lead to malformed foetuses and affect the central nervous system.

"If the ministry has decided combustion is the best way of dealing with the short term problem of the virus, one has to accept their judgement," said Bridges.

"But I am always concerned when we have uncontrolled burning of any kind that we probably don't know enough about what is happening in that process."

He warned that there could also be other hazardous chemicals in the smoke.

Meacher's opposite number, shadow environment secretary Archie Norman of the Conservative Party, welcomed an earlier government admission that there was no "risk-free" option but urged more use of on-farm burials.

But with over a million animals marked for culling to try and stop the spread of the highly infectious disease, Meacher rejected this as "totally unworkable," particularly in areas like Devon where carcasses had mounted up and there were high water table levels.

On Sunday night a pyre of between 4,000 and 7,000 animal bodies was lit in the region.

But in Wales on Monday, the Welsh Affairs Minister announced a halt to the disposal of animal carcasses at a controversial site which has been the focus of protests by local people.

No infected animals were disposed of at the Ministry of Defence firing range in Eppynt, used for livestock from farms adjoining outbreaks, and Carwyn Jones insisted the decision was simply a result of the backlog being cleared.

Last week Jones had announced an end to the burial of carcasses at the site and said some 15,000 animals already buried would be dug up and burned.

Britain has had nearly 1,500 cases of the highly contagious livestock disease confirmed, four of these in Northern Ireland, with one across the border in the Republic Ireland, 26 in the Netherlands and two in France.

With the agricultural sector devastated, Meacher said the key to recovering from the crisis was to "get back to normality as quickly as possible" -- through the use of pyres and burial where necessary.

A proposed vaccination policy in the areas worst affected by foot-and-mouth disease is on the verge of being abandoned the government has signaled.

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown on Monday told a House of Commons Agriculture Select Committee that immunizing livestock in Cumbria and Devon had not been completely ruled but admitted that persistent resistance from farmers and industry and growing optimism the outbreak had been contained was making it less likely.

The average number of daily cases is now 16 compared with 43 just over two weeks ago.

The Netherlands has made use of a selective immunisation programme.

On Monday Switzerland eased a ban on meat imports from France and Ireland, saying no new cases of foot-and-mouth disease had been reported from the two countries in the past month.

The Federal Veterinary Office said imports of beef and lamb from the countries would be allowed with immediate effect but a ban on importing live hoofed animals from the European Union bloc will remain.

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European Union
Dutch Ministry of Agriculture
Foot-and-Mouth Disease
UK Ministry of Agriculture

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