THE ENVIRONMENTAL Protection Agency should take control of licensing plants that process waste human food for use as animal feed, an Oireachtas committee heard yesterday.
Representatives of the waste management industry were before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture. The committee is holding hearings into the recent food crisis in which pigfeed was contaminated by toxic substances known as dioxin-like PCBs, resulting in the withdrawal from sale of all Irish pork products.
Jackie Keaney, vice-president of the Confederation of European Waste-to-Energy Plants (CEWEP) said the pork crisis was “not just a health, food and economic crisis – it was and is very much an environmental crisis”. This means we must ensure our “environmental practices, policies, regulations and infrastructure best serve our citizens, economy and international reputation,” he said.
Ms Keaney said BSE, foot-and-mouth, the Belgian food crisis and the Irish pork crisis were all caused by inappropriate treatment of waste.
Millstream Recycling in Co Carlow, the plant at the centre of the pigfeed crisis, is under investigation after it emerged that industrial oil had been used in the heating process used to convert waste human food into animal feed. A food-grade oil should be used for the process.
Millstream had a licence from Carlow County Council, but was not required to be licensed by the EPA. Ms Keaney said to avoid such a crisis happening again, a “good start” would be to ensure that any activity where contaminated, recycled waste could potentially enter the food chain was licensed by the EPA.
John Ahern, managing director of Indaver Ireland, which is building incinerators or waste-to-energy facilities in Meath and Cork, said lessons had not been learned and that Ireland was “sleepwalking” into another such food crisis.
Mr Ahern claimed Government policy was being advanced “that may result in further food crises”.
He referred to Minister for the Environment John Gormley’s stated policy of prioritising MBT – mechanical biological treatment – in his waste-management policy.
This system, which results in the output of fuel and a biologically treated “compost-like” product to be spread as fertiliser, could not kill PCBs as the temperatures used were not high enough, Mr Ahern said.
A number of members of the committee, including Kerry North TD Martin Ferris, said they had an “open mind” on incineration. Cork East TD Ned O’Keeffe, who is a farmer, said most problems were caused by “bad management” at farming level and that he also had an open mind on incineration.
Green Party Senator Dan Boyle, in whose constituency Indaver’s Cork incinerator will be based, defended Government policy on mechanical biological treatment and said it had been adopted as the fastest-growing method of waste treatment throughout Europe.