The Times: Britain: 10 June 96
BSE-infected material could be contaminating land and water supplies for years to come because of the ineffectiveness of the rendering process, a neurologist said yesterday.
Dr Alan Colchester, a consultant neurologist at Guy's Hospital in London, has been caring for the only cluster group of people suffering from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human equivalent of BSE, in the country. There have been three suspected cases of CJD from the Ashford area of Kent, with one of them confirmed.
He told BBC Radio 4's World This Weekend that there was no guarantee that the substances known as prions, which cause BSE and CJD, were being consistently destroyed by the rendering process. He called for the whole rendering industry to be reassessed.
The BBC programme focused on the Canterbury Mills rendering plant in Kent, one of nine in the country receiving cattle from the national cull. It operates a soakaway system, discharging its liquid effluent through pipes onto surrounding land. The licensing agencies and the plant itself insist the process is safe, the programme reported.
Dr Colchester alleged that prions could survive the rendering process and pollute land and water supplies for years. He recommended that the surrounding land, if contaminated, be quarantined, "possibly indefintely". He added: "Prions are definitely very different from viruses and bacteria when it comes to how they behave in the face of all the usual processes of destruction of infectivity." It was very difficult to detect prions and tests on water supplies or on land would take years.
"That is one of the problems, which is why I am arguing that the time has come to err on the safe side and if there is contaminated land then I fear that I think the whole area should indeed be fenced off and no sort of human trespassing should be allowed." Asked whether this meant quarantine, he replied: "Yes, possibly indefinitely."
The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food declined to comment on Dr Colchester's claims, saying it was a matter for the Intervention Board. A spokesman for the UK Renderers' Association defended the industry, saying it was doing a job on behalf of the Government and under its authority and control.
BY DOMINIC KENNEDY AND LIN JENKINS ... The Times: Britain:11 June 96
EXPERTS were divided yesterday over the risks to public health from the disposal on land of the remains of cattle slaughtered in the cull against "mad cow" disease. They spoke as the Government announced an amnesty for farmers to return banned animal feed blamed for the start of the BSE crisis, before fines and imprisonment for the possession of the meal are introduced in August.
The Ministry of Agriculture yesterday announced fines and imprisonment for farmers still keeping banned animal feed from the remains of sheep and cattle, which was blamed for the BSE outbreak. There will be a £5,000 fine for a first offence and one month's jail for a second.
The debate about disposal was sparked by the disclosure that Canterbury Mills in Kent was spreading liquid effluent from the rendering process on to land at its plant. Alan Colchester, who has been treating three of five people believed to be suffering from CJD in Kent, called for the land to be sealed off in case it infected people or animals. The first herd in Britain in which "mad cow" disease was diagnosed had been reared near by in Ashford in 1985. Renderers are dealing with 18,000 carcasses a week and are expected to have to cope with 250,000 cattle before the cull, which began last month, is finished in about six months.
Richard Lacey, one of the loudest voices warning of the connection between BSE and the human equivalent CJD, feared that the practice could lead to the return of the illness to Britain even if the entire national herd was killed. Scientists are divided about the dangers posed by the remains of cattle that have been through the rendering process, which involves boiling at high temperatures such as 145C for an hour.
But others dismissed the dangers as negligible. They said the prion protein that causes BSE should be destroyed during rendering, which involves boiling at high temperatures for long periods. Canterbury Mills is thought to be the only one of the nine rendering plants disposing of the remains of cattle being slaughtered in the cull which has permission to spread the liquid effluent on land, according to the Environment Agency, which is responsible for waste disposal. The others, at Huddersfield, Aberdeenshire, Dumfries, Lancaster, Stoke-on-Trent, Widnes, Bradford and Motherwell, are all understood to pump it into the sewage system.
The Canterbury Mills rendering plant, at Godmersham, defended its practices yester day. Joseph Cheale, managing director, dismissed concerns raised by Dr Colchester, consultant neurologist at Guy's Hospital, that infected agents in effluent discharged from the plant could reach human beings through direct contact or the water supply.
"If there was a danger we would not do it. The rendering process is right and effective. What escapes people's attention is the fact that this process is the same as the human body's," Mr Cheale said. He said that viruses and bacteria entered the sewage system from a variety of sources. "So why should what we do be any less safe?" he said.
The plant is dealing with 1,800 culled carcasses a week. Dead trees around the mill are just one of the reasons local people want it closed. The stench affects the surrounding villages of Waltham, Chartham, Godmersham, Petham and Crundale, but local campaigners also complain of contaminated lands and offal spills on the road.
David Richardson, site manager, said the plant complied with all EU safety standards. Ministry of Agriculture Food and Fisheries inspectors visited twice each day. Operations go on 24 hours a day, six days a week. Some of the resulting effluent is sprayed on 40 acres of land where they grow linseed. "There is no health hazard," he said.
The Forestry Commission opposed plans to tip a further 26,000 gallons a day on fields next to the plant. It claimed dumping effluent on its land without permission had already done serious damage.
Anne Graham, who co-ordinates local opposition to the plant from her home in Petham, said that only last Friday offal fell from one of the lorries on its way to the plant. She said blood and carcasses could often be seen in the open and the smell and the draining of effluent on to land were unnecessary.