October 6, 2002 Sunday Telegraph(London) by David Harrison
THE REMAINS of slaughtered farm animals, banned from use in animal
feed because of fears of mad cow disease, could soon be used as a
material for building houses.
The Government's Meat and Livestock Commission is part-funding a pounds 13,000 research project to see whether the ash from incinerated meat and bonemeal can be mixed into concrete.
The commission says that the move would give a much-needed boost to the rendering industry, which has been badly hit by the ban on the use of such remains in animal feed following the outbreak of BSE and the related fatal brain disease in humans, vCJD, or new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Critics fear, however, that the use of animal ash in concrete might pose a risk to human health - potentially threatening an outbreak of "mad house disease".
More than 400,000 tons of meat and bonemeal - animal remains boiled and ground to dust - are produced in Britain each year. The waste is currently sent for landfill or stockpiled for incineration, and the industry is desperate to find new commercial uses. The commission hopes that the ash produced by incineration can be used to make cement and breeze blocks for houses, roads and bridges. The practice has recently been approved in Switzerland and France.
Martin Grantley-Smith, the commission's head of planning, said: "Obviously people will be concerned that there could be a risk of the material carrying BSE but we would carry out full independent assessments of any health risk."
The research is being carried out by the Buildings Research Establishment, which will initially test the strength of concrete made with animal ash but will also examine the potential for any substances to leach out. Dr Rod Collins, the project head, said he was confident that the incineration process, which burns the animal remains at 1,000.C, would be sufficient to destroy any infectious agent.
The Housebuilders' Federation said, however, that it wanted "categorical assurances" that there was no risk to human health before it would even consider using bonemeal ash as a building material.
Pierre Williams, the federation's spokesman, said: "Even if it is cleared on health grounds, we would have the problem of whether housebuyers would find it an attractive proposition because of the connection with BSE.
"However, our industry is becoming more and more interested in using recycled materials and we will be watching this one closely."
David Lidington, the Conservative agriculture spokesman, found the project "rather alarming". He said: "This proposal must be subjected to the most rigorous scientific analysis. Nothing less than a cast-iron guarantee that there is no danger to public health will be acceptable.
"The scientific assurances must be set in concrete before the meat and bonemeal is mixed in concrete."
He added: "We need to be sure that dust from the concrete would not leach into the water supply. It would be catastrophic if it were used for farm buildings and ended up bringing BSE or vCJD back to our farms."