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Deadly serious: Nation Bros. stops animal pickup

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By Joel Reichert

Farmers may want to work doubly hard to keep their cattle, horses and other livestock healthy; there’s no good place to send them if they die.

Nation Brothers, Inc., which has a contract with the county to pick up and render dead livestock, notified Spencer County Judge Executive David Jenkins last Thursday that they are no longer in the business.

Owner Gabe Nation said his company will stay open but will stop picking up dead livestock in Spencer and 21 other counties in the state unless the FDA changes its rule requiring brain and spinal cord tissues be removed from the animal before it is turned into pet feed or fertilizer. Nation said he has barnstormed the state and spent a week in Washington trying to get federal officials to consider rescinding or delaying the rule, which goes into effect in April.

“The only power I have left now is to drop my bomb and shut down my business,” Nation said. “The bomb will come when dead animals are laying in the fields.”

With Nation Bros. exiting the dead-animal disposal business, local farmers have few options to dispose of dead animals legally. State law requires that animals be properly disposed of within 48 hours of death, and the disposal cannot be near waterways, ponds, or underground springs.

“Burden lies on the farmer”

The University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service says farmers can dispose of dead animals legally by incineration, burial, composting or transporting to a landfill. But most of those options are impractical for the average farmer, and all are expensive.

“The burden lies on the farmer now and that is unfortunate,” said Magistrate David Henry during a Spencer County Fiscal Court meeting Monday morning.

Magistrate David Goodlett reminded court members of a lightning strike several years ago in Little Mount that killed 40 cows. He questioned what would happen if a similar event occurred today. Court members, some of which are farmers themselves, agreed the FDA regulation would result in more animals dragged to remote hollers and left to decompose.

“I agree with Gabe,” said Jenkins. “The best thing to do is let (legislators) see what’s going to happen,” after all, they are the ones who created the problem.

Leaving an animal lying dead in a field or moving it to a wooded area or sinkhole is a violation of KRS 224, which would consider such action creating an open dump.

If an animal is buried on the farm, KRS 257 requires putting the carcass in a hole 4 feet deep and covered with at least 2 inches of quicklime. The burial site also should be at least 100 feet from a stream, sinkhole, well, spring, public highway or residence.

Goodlett estimated that maybe one in 20 farmers have the equipment necessary to bury cattle on their farm.

“And a lot of people aren’t going to pay a backhoe operator $100 to bury one,” said Goodlett.

Composting of a dead animal is also a legal option, but, like burial, that requires equipment and land many farmers do not have.

Farmers also have the option of incinerating or burning a dead animal.

“It takes a long time to burn a 12- to 14,000 lbs. cow,” said Goodlett. Neighbors down wind also might not appreciate the odor.

Farmers can dispose of animals in suitable landfills, according to state regulations. Jefferson County’s landfill, Waste Management of Kentucky located on Outer Loop Road currently accepts animal carcasses. For more information, call 502-964-3631.

The state also has regulations on transporting animals to a landfill, including a rule that the transporter be a licensed renderer.

“People forget they have a voice”

The FDA regulation came about as part of a beef trade agreement with South Korea. Removing the brain and spinal cord theoretically lessens the chance of mad cow disease, which can be passed to humans as the brain-wasting, always-fatal Creutzfeld Jakob disease.

But critics of the rule said the disease is extremely rare in the U. S. with only two cases found so far, and the regulation would do little to increase protection above and beyond measures already in place.

Critics, including Nation, also say that if dead animals are not disposed of properly on farms, the result may be an increase in other serious diseases, including brucellosis, anthrax and foot and mouth from contaminated soil and water.

“We’re going to have much less control and tracking of diseases because that dead animal is laying out in a sinkhole,” Nation said. “Rendering is the best form of recycling in the world.”

The General Assembly is considering a resolution that would ask the FDA at least to delay its rule to allow time for public comment.

But any action to change the FDA regulation will have to happen at the federal level. A spokesperson for Congressman Brett Guthrie said he is asking the House Agriculture Committee to look at the regulation, but Congressional action, if any, will likely be slow in coming.

Nation said he thinks people sometimes forget they have a voice in government, and he is urging those who call his business to contact their congressmen and senators.

“I’m telling them don’t be mad at your judge; it’s not his fault. And don’t be mad at your ag commissioner; it’s not his fault,” Nation said. “Be angry at your congressmen because only they can do something about it.”

Spencer Magnet Editor Robin Bass contributed to this story.