Incineration of animal waste taking place without official controls, report reveals

The Maltese authorities have been accused by the European Commission of neglecting official controls on the incineration of animal waste

The Marsa abattoir
The Marsa abattoir

The Maltese authorities have been accused by the European Commission of neglecting official controls on the incineration of animal waste.

A second, consecutive report issued in the space of one week by the EC’s Food and Veterinary Office has revealed damning shortcomings in the abattoir and the meat production sector, and the handling of animal by-products (ABP), that is waste from animal meat not consumed by people.

“The evidence seen on the spot in the establishments visited by the audit team suggests that recent official controls are not effective in detecting and preventing inappropriate processing, handling and use of ABP.”

The inspectors said that with so many shortcomings, “the overall picture is not consistent with a well-functioning system of official controls”.

It turns out that a plan to inspect all ABP plants and operators at least once a year, was not even achieved: for the last three years, Malta’s main ABP plants and operators in the country were operating without any official controls.

Not even the biogas plant in Maghtab, which caters for animal manure, was ever subjected to any veterinary controls.

In one inspection, the auditors found the meat and bone meal resulting from the thermal treatment that precedes incineration, stored in “large open vats” from which birds were observed feeding from.

This was deemed to be in breach of EU laws which require that animals must not have access to ABP awaiting incineration, to prevent the spread of disease from waste to other animals.

A large number of plastic containers were found stored in a yard without any identification, which the Maltese said were “rendered fats stored for incineration”. But EU rules specify that ABP must be “covered, and correctly identified”.

Enforcement action was later taken to address the thermal treatment facility shortcomings.

An inspection in an unspecified poultry slaughterhouse, where blood was being collected in vats to be disposed of in the high-capacity incinerator plant at Marsa, found that blood had ended up in the drain of the slaughter hall, some of which was leaking into the slaughterhouse surroundings. All this was in breach of regulations which prohibit the disposal of blood in the normal waste stream.

Staff shortages blamed for lack of controls

Staff shortages in Malta’s veterinary sector is having a spillover effect on operations at the Marsa incineration plant where animal waste is disposed of.

The situation is particularly acute for units responsible for ABP control and for derived products, which have high staff turnover. At the time of the audit, 11 posts for veterinary officers at the Veterinary Regulation Department were vacant. Several officers were forced to take on additional duties, working only half-time for their original job description without any specific training for their new tasks.

The ABP section includes only three officers, one of whom is on long-term leave.

Now the Maltese authorities plan to ease language requirements for foreign staff to address these chronic shortages.

The lack of training in the ABP section is so acute, the last training took place in 2011.

Moreover the lack of enforcement and the shortcomings in practically all of the sites indicate that the staff responsible for controls has “insufficient knowledge of the specific legislative requirements for ABP… compromising their ability to carry out effective official controls in this area”.

“It is concluded that the official control system is failing and is neither adequately resourced nor organised to allow for this sector to be appropriately controlled.”

The audit is part of a series of audits aimed at assessing if official controls by EU states to cover the entire chain of collection, transport, use and disposal of animal by-products (ABP) and derived products (DP) and if the controls are suitable to detect and prevent inappropriate handling, use and/or disposal of the products placed on the Union market.

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