Tuesday, 6 July 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Walsh: Each year the meat sector in Ireland generates 550,000 tonnes of animal by-products, which in turn are rendered into meat and bonemeal, MBM. A total of 138,453 tonnes of MBM were produced in Ireland in 2003, which represents a weekly average production of just over 2,662 tonnes.
The production of animal by-products and, in turn, of meat and bonemeal is a necessary part of a livestock and meat processing industry. In the absence of any domestic facility for using the product, either in industry or energy production, it must be exported for incineration to other EU countries.
Mr. Hayes: Is there any other way the Minister can envisage getting rid of the product? Incineration is obviously not available, but is there any other way that it might be dealt with? It is a significant problem and is obviously costing the country a great deal of money. That weekly tonnage represents a vast volume. Is there any other system we might use rather than incineration?
Mr. Walsh: As Deputy Hayes has said, this is a major and expensive problem. In 2002, I established an interdepartmental group to examine ways and means of disposing of and utilising that very large amount of meat and bonemeal. The committee recommended that it could be used for co-incineration in the manufacture of cement, as happens in other EU countries to which we export it for that use. Our difficulty is the cost of that transportation and export. The use of meat and bonemeal as a substitute fuel for energy production is another possibility and we are considering landfill, incorporation into fertiliser and alkaline hydrolysis. We are keeping the matter under review.
That report was sent to the industry. We talked to people in the cement and energy industries to see if we could encourage them to use the product. All the risk material has been taken out of it. It is treated to international standards for time and temperature combinations which render it totally inert, and it is an entirely safe product. The Food Safety Authority was involved in the interdepartmental committee as an agency. However, it is regrettable that to date we have not been able to get any industry or part thereof to take an interest in meat and bonemeal as an energy or fuel source. We have been left with no option but to store and export it for use in the very same industries in other countries around Europe. We are finding a European solution to an Irish problem.
Dr. Upton: Does the Minister see any possibility of reducing the amount? Will it stabilise, or is it likely to increase? What options are there? He mentioned the task force and the group set up to examine it. Have there been any significant developments in international research that might suggest a way forward apart from incineration?
Mr. Walsh: Following the total ban on using meat and bonemeal in feed, the volume naturally increased, as did the risk material. A few years ago the brains and spinal cord were removed, but now larger amounts of risk material are extracted. As far as I can see, the volume will remain considerable. The question is therefore how we dispose of it. We will examine best practice in other countries, particularly in Europe, in that regard. We will keep in touch with the scientific bodies in other countries too. However, we are still left with a large problem in that several hundred thousand tonnes of meat and bonemeal must be disposed of. In the Irish situation, we cannot use thermal treatment; nor can we utilise it for animal feed because of the ban. The only alternative is to pay for the cost of storage and transport subject to industries in other countries paying a knock-down price since one has no alternative but to get rid of it.
Mr. Hayes: The Minister mentioned alternatives. Alkaline hydrolysis has been mooted several times, and I am delighted to hear that the committee examined that proposal. Might it be possible to pursue that, perhaps encouraging companies to take that route, which seems the environmentally friendly alternative to incineration among the options the Minister listed?
Mr. J. Brady: Is it difficult to get suitable storage facilities for meat and bonemeal? There was a great deal of talk about incinerators being built in this country for that purpose. Has there been progress in that area?
Mr. Walsh: We have examined every possible way of disposing of and utilising meat and bonemeal, several of which I mentioned. Deputy Hayes asked about alkaline hydrolysis. We need the European Commission to approve that method and validate the process. We hope that that will happen very shortly. However, there is a shortcoming since with alkaline hydrolysis one must use a very considerable amount of water, and one produces a significant amount of sludge as a result. For a relatively small operation such as a farm or a butcher’s shop, it would be a suitable way to dispose of the product. However, for larger processing plants, it would have limitations. Nonetheless, in following up such matters we must examine every possibility.
Regarding storage, one will get it if one pays for it, and it is costly. We are fortunate there is currently no beef intervention store, meaning that storage facilities are fairly readily available. Planning permission is a difficult matter at any time for a private house, never mind incineration, as I am sure Members are aware. I wish anyone applying for an incinerator the very best of luck. Nonetheless, we have made some progress in that area in that at least outline permission has been granted in one case. However, another element follows. The Environmental Protection Agency must give permission too and the detailed rules governing the procedure must be observed.
The net position is that we do not have thermal treatment facilities and that will continue to be so for some time. I do not know the cost per tonne but will communicate that directly to Deputy Crawford.
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