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If they haven't noticed already, Marion County residents may soon realize that dead animals are no longer being picked up for disposal.
Gabe Nation of Nation Brothers said his company would not be picking up dead animals in the county due to increased costs associated with a new regulation by the Food and Drug Administration.
"It would more than double the cost of normal rendering," Nation said.
Marion County Judge/Executive John G. Mattingly sent notice to the media Friday that Feb. 27 would be the last day Nation Brothers would pick up dead animals in the county.
And Marion County isn't alone. Nation Brothers is ending its dead animal pick-up in all 22 counties it now serves.
A new FDA regulation takes effect April 27 that requires the spine and brain to be removed from bovine animals over 30 months of age before those animals can be rendered. Rendering is the processing of an animal carcass to extract fat, protein and other usable parts, such as the skin.
The purpose of the new rule is to "strengthen existing safeguards designed to help prevent the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy," according to an FDA environmental assessment. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy is more commonly known as "mad cow disease."
Nation disputes FDA statements about the regulation and a "Finding of No Significant Impact" issued regarding the regulation.
"There is no science behind this regulation," he said. "It is a political regulation, not a scientific one."
He also said the new regulation would double his cost of doing business. The rendering company where he takes the carcasses is intending to charge a fee of six cents per pound for animals from which the spine and brain must be removed. For a 1,000-pound cow, this would mean an additional $60.
Nation added that in order to continue doing business he would need to increase his fees, which he said is bad for the county, bad for the state and bad for dairy and beef producers.
He continued to say that he understands counties may not have the funds to make up the difference.
"In these economic times, they can't pay any more," Nation said, "and they shouldn't have to."
The Marion County Fiscal Court discussed the potential impact of this new regulation during its Jan. 22 meeting.
Under a 2008-09 agreement, the fiscal court agreed to pay Nation Brothers $3,338 per month for dead animal removal and an additional $325.13 per month because of the high costs of diesel fuel.
The agreement called for the county to pay Nation Brothers nearly $44,000 for the 2008-09 fiscal year, but it does include a clause that the agreement can be canceled by either party with a 30-day written notice.
Judge Mattingly said Nation referred to the potential to suspend the service in previous correspondence with the county in January when Nation raised concerns about the impact of the FDA regulation.
Judge Mattingly added that he does expect the fiscal court to discuss dead animal removal at its March 5 meeting at 4 p.m. at the David R. Hourigan Government Building.
In 2008, Nation Brothers picked up 1,598 dead animals in Marion County, 1,332 of which were bovine animals. In 2007, Nation Brothers picked up 1,508 dead animals, which included 1,387 bovine animals.
That's a monthly average of 129.4 dead animals, including 113.3 bovine animals, for the 24 months of 2007 and 2008.
Joe Paul Mattingly, president of the Marion County Farm Bureau, said the fact that dead animal removal isn't being offered wouldn't set in for many people until they pick up the phone to request the service.
Thousands of cattle live on beef and dairy farms in Marion County, according to Joe Paul Mattingly, and inevitably some of those animals will die each month. This could lead to some unsafe disposal methods.
"You used to drag 'em off to the back 40 and let the good Lord take care of 'em," Joe Paul Mattingly said.
He added that farmers are discouraged from letting a carcass rot in the open. A rotting carcass has the potential to contaminate ground water and spread disease, which can affect drinking water and run-off water, he said.
"Everybody needs to be concerned," Joe Paul Mattingly said. "It's not just our farmers."
There are alternative means of disposing of dead animals, but Joe Paul Mattingly said he knows there will be some people who choose the cheapest disposal method instead of the safest.
Judge Mattingly is also aware some people will drag carcasses out of the way.
"Coyotes are all going to get fat in Marion County," he said.
And like Joe Paul Mattingly, Judge Mattingly is encouraging people to dispose of the animals safely (see sidebar). In the meantime, Nation is encouraging citizens to contact their federal and state officials to lobby against the implementation of the new FDA regulation or to provide additional funds to cover the added costs of spine and brain removal.
"I am for the producer," he said. "This is not just about Nation Brothers. It's about the producers."
Proper animal carcass disposal
Since dead animals are no longer being picked up in Marion County, farmers are encouraged to find alternate methods of disposing of their dead livestock.
Dr. Ed Hall of the state veterinarian's office in the Department of Agriculture said the state regulations regarding animal carcass disposal are in Chapter 257.160 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes.
State statutes specify that carcasses should be disposed of within 48 hours of their discovery, unless the carcass is preserved in cold storage.
KRS 257.160 reads that livestock carcasses may be disposed:
- By complete incineration of the entire carcass and all of its parts and products. Hall noted that this method does have some environmental concerns.
- Boiling the carcass and all of its parts with steam at a temperature above boiling, continuously for two hours or more.
- Burying the carcass and all of its parts and products in the earth at a point which is never covered with the overflow of ponds or streams and which is not less than 100 feet distant from any watercourse, sinkhole, well, spring, public highway, residence, or stable. The carcass shall be placed in an opening in the earth at least four feet deep, the abdominal and thoracic cavities opened wide their entire length with a sharp instrument, and the entire carcass covered with two inches of quicklime and at least three feet of earth.
- Removal of the carcass by a duly-licensed rendering establishment.
- Deposition of the carcass in a contained landfill approved pursuant to KRS Chapter 224.
- Composting of the carcass in a facility according to the board's administrative regulations and approved in accordance with KRS Chapter 224.
- Any combination of the methods specified above.
- Or any other scientifically-proven method of disposal approved by the board.