Safer sludge on crops to protect food chain

The government is proposing to set stricter standards for the amount of pathogens that can be present in sewage sludge used to fertilise farmland. A consultation paper seeks public and industry opinion on how sludge should be treated before being spread on agricultural land.

Scottish Rural Development Minister Ross Finnie has put forward UK and Scottish government proposals to tighten up regulations on the use of sewage sludge on agricultural land. The proposed changes set stricter requirements of sludge treatment processes to ensure potential pathogens, such as E.coli O157 and Salmonella, do not enter the food chain.

Although research has shown there is only a small potential risk of disease transmission from sludge to grazing animals, and no evidence that human health would be affected by the transfer of pathogens, the government nevertheless proposes tighter standards for the microbial content of the sludge.

The paper also recommends tightening up metal limits, record keeping and sludge treatment control procedures, and continuing the improvements in sludge recycling and recovery operations currently underway. The capital cost of these improvements in Scotland is estimated to be £14 million over the next four years. A draft Regulatory Impact Assessment is included in the paper.

Comments are invited up to 16 January 2003 on the proposed changes to the regulatory framework in Scotland, the associated UK Code of Practice and the draft Regulatory Impact Assessment.

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