Trash cows

18 Feb 2019

All the studies agree. Cows grazing grass, eating hay and corn silage swallow metal and plastic waste. These ingestions cause tumors, infections, fatal diseases.

In France, Interbev (Interprofessional Livestock and Meat) estimates that 60,000 large bovines suffer from tumours and infections caused by the accumulation of waste in their rumens. These 60,000 victims have been partially or totally seized from slaughterhouses and in the later case, the meat was not at all marketed. It is likely that the number of cows affected by this “waste disease” is higher than the official figure, and that deaths before arrival at the slaughterhouse are not quantified. The symptoms of “waste disease” are not specific and can be misattributed by farmers and veterinarians to other maladies.

The NGO Recycling Netwerk Benelux estimates that in the Netherlands, between 11 and 13,000 cows suffer digestive tract injuries each year due to waste ingestion, and about 4,000 cows die as a result. The annual economic loss is estimated at between €10 million and €17 million. Recycling Netwerk Benelux estimates that in the Belgian province of Flanders, between 5 to 6,000 cows are injured per year, with a mortality rate of 2,000 to 2,500. The majority of the waste ingested is from whole beverage cans littered on the prairies by drivers or pedestrians, and then trampled by livestock or crushed by agricultural machinery. Scraps of cans would also be found in the hay and would be absorbed by the cattle during the winter. A marginal contribution is brought into the fields by corvidae bringing cans from ditches to build or consolidate nests but letting them falling in the process.

The Faculties of Veterinary Medicine of Montreal and Liège describe peritonitis, and traumatic pericarditis due to pressure from ingested waste against the wall of the rumen and its possible migration towards vital organs or nerves.

In the United States, the waste found in the rumens of cows at the slaughterhouse is, in decreasing order, wire from scrap tires, fence wire, screwdrivers, nails, scrap iron, steel, copper and aluminum. At ranches, discarded tires are recycled into troughs, windbreaks and, in some cases, corral fences.

The agricultural sector claims to have found a solution. Many breeders in the United States, Canada, Europe and especially France insert magnets weighing from 100 g to 1.3 kg into the cows’ rumens. Interbev recommends regular usage of these magnets to cattle. According to direct testimonies from farmers, cows’ gastric acidity degrades the magnets over time and so they must be replaced every 3 to 4 years in order for the device to maintain its presumed effectiveness. Waste management is a priority, but animal welfare is still important. There is something dangerous and unacceptable about forcing magnets into the oesophagus and stomach of animals using 55 cm long push guides.

Some farm advisors recommend to place magnets in food mixers to extract most metal waste before it’s ingested. Peter Lenferink, a Dutch cattle breeder, has observed in these preventive box-magnets not only metal macrowaste but also frequent micrometric particles whose origin and effects when ingested have yet to be determined.

According to professionals, out of use tires are the main cause of the waste disease affecting cattle. In France, the Ademe (French Agency for Environment and Energy Management) estimates that there are about 800,000 t of out of use tires on livestock farms; about 80 million tires that expose cattle and other animals to accidental ingestion of 120,000 t of steel wire which disintegrates over time and comes out of the tires’ rubber through attrition, rain and sun. After October 2015, covering silage tarps with used tires is no longer considered a recycling technique, but the 800,000 t are still there.

On several occasions, the NGO Robin des Bois has proposed to the Chambers of Agriculture, agricultural unions, Adivalor (a private not-for-profit organization dedicated to the collection of chemical and other waste in the farming sector), the Ministry of Ecology, the Ministry of Agriculture and other stakeholders to jointly develop a progressive and streamlined withdrawal plan. However, inaction persists and tires continue to shelter mosquito larvae, feed fires and harm domestic livestock and biodiversity.

While there are schemes to capture particles of metal waste and reduce the risk of internal injury to cows’ organs, there are none to capture plastic chips and bits which are as sharp and bulky as metal but even more toxic. This plastic waste comes from scrapping of commercial packaging littered around the farm perimeter, particularly near stables or crashed in the hedges, or fields due to urban negligence, flooding and reopening of former landfills by floods. Hard plastics consumed by livestock are also a major cause of the waste disease. This is a major and relatively unknown argument that further pushes for an ambitious plan to prevent, manage and penalize illegal dumps.




Recycling Netwerk
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Décret n° 2015-1003 du 18 août 2015 relatif à la gestion des déchets de pneumatiques





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