While visiting the site of a former cattle cemetery in Bajmok, in early September 2017, journalists of the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CINS) found dead bodies of a young pig and a dog, the skin of rabbit and a bag of unknown contents thrown close to the gate.
A lot more animal remains lay there only a few weeks ago, while stray dogs and other animals used to scatter them around during the night, says Jožef Hegediš, a veterinarian. He also adds that now the situation is somewhat better than before.
The cattle cemetery has been closed, however the city authorities of Subotica made it possible for the local residents to bring animal waste to this site three times a week. Following this, the collected waste is placed into containers. Then the employees of the Public Utility Company “Cleanliness and Greenery“ take the waste to active pit tombs. However, improper disposal of animal waste is frequent in the area covered by the city of Subotica.
During the first seven months of 2017, “Cleanliness and Greenery“ employees removed the animal waste in the quantity that was by one third higher than the quantity removed during the entire last year, a part of this waste being removed from public spaces. Among the 332 products of animal origin, they found more than 40 pigs, sows and piglets, peeled-off animal skins, 21 sacks of bones, 39 inwards, as well as 13 sacks with the remains the contents of which could not be identified.
The rejected material is hazardous for human health and the environment, being the largest possible source of infectious material and of the danger for spreading animal diseases to people, such as rabies, salmonella, anthrax, bird flu and others.
The problem of the disposal of dead animals is not limited to Subotica only. The Republic of Serbia does not have precise records on the quantity of dead bodies and other animal remains, while the investigation done by CINS shows that tons of hazardous materials are thrown away or buried in the manner that is not in line with the regulations.
There are four types of disposal and processing of animal waste permitted in Serbia: incineration within the rendering plants, burying, and incineration at the cattle cemeteries or in pit tombs, and, exceptionally, burying on the spot monitored by the inspection.
According to the data provided by the Veterinary Directorate of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management, four rendering plants are active – two of them for reworking the infected animal remains and another two for reworking of the by-products safe for use. Apart from this, two meat industries have their own reworking facilities.
A single legal cattle cemetery was registered at the Veterinary Directorate in the area close to the city of Negotin. However, even this cemetery was closed in 2016. Out of 10 pit-tombs in total, only the one close to Subotica is used for all types of animal waste, while five of them are not operational. Other four pit-tombs are used for disposal of dead dogs and cats.
Stations for the collection of animal waste
While in Bajmok animal remains are collected and stored in a container, the right solution is having storage stations where low temperatures are maintained until the moment the waste away is taken away, says Dejan Maksimović from the ecological center “Stanište“, who participated in the construction of such facilities. He adds that currently Serbia has three facilities of this type, out of the required 25.
“The most efficient way is to construct a buffer facility where the waste would be collected for several days, until economically viable quantity is collected. Then the waste should be transported by the rendering plant’s truck for further reprocessing. This is the method employed by the European Union in solving this problem and is envisaged by both, the European and our regulatory rules. However it is not functioning in Serbia.”
As specified by the CINS interlocutor, pit toms are the worst, while rendering plants are the most reliable way of animal waste treatment, as the remains are reprocessed into energy-generating products, while the infections are destroyed at high temperatures. However, in their operations the rendering plants face the issues such as citizens’ protests, financial problems and judicial proceedings.
Animal remains collected in several cities in Serbia, including Belgrade, are taken to the Sombor-based veterinary institution “Proteinka”. This is the only rendering plant in the province of Vojvodina authorized to store the infectious waste. However, “Proteinka“ and its responsible persons have been convicted on the grounds of illegal disposal of hazardous waste within the course of two years, while the trials based on four other criminal information are underway.
The CINS journalists asked for an interview with the representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management, namely with the representatives of the Veterinary Directorate and veterinary inspection. However, even two months later, they were not given an opportunity to have this interview.
The diseases and the danger for the environment
Animal waste is divided into three categories encompassing inedible by-products of slaughtered animals, dead animals, and other animal waste deriving from livestock breeding. There are no official data on the quantities of waste generated annually. However, according to the Waste Management Strategy for the period 2010-2019, there are 28,000 tons of dead animals per year, namely 245,000 tons of waste deriving from slaughtering and meat cutting. It is estimated that note more than 20% of this waste is collected and processed.
In case of inappropriate disposal of the infectious material, “there is a great danger of its transmission and possible subsequent occurrence of one of the 180 or more existing zoonotic diseases, as said for CINS by the retired Professor Milutin Ristić, the author of numerous works in this field. He adds that the problem of improper meat disposal in Serbia has been present for a very long time.
Fast decomposition of this material releases toxic gases of unpleasant odor into the air, contaminates soil, food and water. In this way, as well as through flies and other insects, rodents, dogs, wild animals and birds, which contribute to fast spreading of potential infections, both, the animals and the people, can get infected.
Some viruses and bacteria develop resistance and can therefore survive in the meat between three days and three decades, as specified in the monograph composed by Milutin Ristić and his colleagues and published by the Novi Sad based Scientific Institute of Food Technology.
Households having bovine animals – cows, calves, bulls – or other registered cattle, have to provide evidence on each animal to the institutions in charge, so that it is more difficult not to observe the law. The death of each of these animals has to be reported to the Veterinary Directorate.
Unlike this, no records are kept on the disposal of other, unregistered animals, like pigs, sheep or goats, hence there are no precise data on the location of their remains.
The CINS journalists have talked to five farmers from the neighborhood of Subotica, three of whom did not want to reveal their identity as they themselves dig the pits where they bury dead animals covered by lime.
Without putting aside financial benefits, as the main reasons for burying dead animals they state slow removal of animal corpses or failure of the authorized rendering plants to visit the site, which presents a problem especially in the summer when animal deaths occur every day.
The farmers who have used the services of the rendering plants say that they are satisfied, although the price is not low.
Graphic design: Andrija Ćeranić
Partial utilization of state capacities
The problem of harmless disposal of animal waste could have been solved to a significant degree through the operations of “Energo Zelena”, a Belgium company having a plant for disposal of the infected and other hazardous material in Indjija, Serbia. This modern rendering plant, opened in the beginning of 2013, came upon a warm welcome by Serbian authorities.
At the end of 2014, the owners decided to close the plant and request indemnity from the Republic of Serbia. The result of the arbitration held before The International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes in Paris will soon be known.
Problems in the town of Sremska Mitrovica
The village called Laćarak, close to Sremska Mitrovica, has about 11,000 inhabitants many of whom are involved in cattle raising. The villagers have been complaining about the uncontrolled throwing of dead pigs into the excess-water drainage canals, and their problem was raised at the session of the National Assembly of Serbia in March 2016, without any concrete results.
In the beginning of September 2017, the CINS journalists found on their way from the village Laćarak to the neighboring village Martinci, an illegal landfill with dead pigs, bones and the inwards. The animal remains were also lying around the waste canal.
Gordana Brljak, a member of the Laćarak village Local Community Council, says that animal waste is the biggest problem for the village and that they do not know how to solve it. They clean the channels and the landfill several times every year, which requires considerable funds.
Tom Hanson, the director of “Energo Zelena”, says that the plant meets all the standards and they have agreed with the Republic of Serbia to replace, as a part of their business operations, all the existing rendering plants. However, he says that his company was exposed to unfair competition, while the Republic of Serbia also failed to enforce their own legislation.
The closing down of “Energo Zelena” presented an alarm to the Assembly Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management, also influencing the introduction of changes into the regulations governing this field. After several appeals by the National Assembly to solve the problem with waste materials, Snežana Bogosavljević-Bošković, then Minister of Agriculture and Environmental Protection had, in February 2014, amended the Rules on the treatment of the waste of animal origin.
Since then, it has been permitted to dispose the own animal waste in pit-tombs and at the registered cattle cemeteries, while before the amendment to the Rules, only the disposal of pets and certain categories of meat, including the infected meat, was allowed at these sites.
“If local self-government units do not have such a site, there is a possibility to carry out the burial on the spot, monitored by the Republic Veterinary Inspection and the farmers themselves“, says in his interview to CINS, Grgur Stipić from the Department for Agriculture and Agricultural Land at Subotica City Administration. He explains that, as no systemic solution has been in place for the entire territory of Serbia, either at that time or nowadays, so the pit-tombs are being used.
According to the photos reaching the media in early 2017, about ten decayed animal bodies were scattered around a pit-tomb, instead of being buried. The animal bodies were later removed.
Milutin Ristić says that the solution for Serbia is to provide complete reworking of the raw materials in the rendering plants: “It is quite expensive to make a pit-tomb. (…) The raw materials destruction process in a pit-tomb is a long one, and the pit-tomb may become full in a short time“.
Jožef Hegediš, a veterinarian from Bajmok, says that the ammonia, nitrates and other nitrogen compounds are formed in the pits. These compounds are water-soluble and may easily, through the soil layers containing water, reach the aquifer layers, which is why the levels of their presence in the drinking water from the wells can be increased.
In their response to the request for access to information of public importance, the representatives of Veterinary Directorate at the Ministry specify that no obligation has been imposed to keep evidence on the capacities of the rendering plants, cattle cemeteries and pit-tombs. They do not even have precise data on the number of cases of the illegal waste disposal.
The cattle cemetery in the city of Negotin was closed last year after the republic veterinary inspector had found out that it did not meet the prescribed regulations, such as to be enclosed by a wire fence. Marjan Stojanović, manager of the Landfill and Cemetery Section says that, when they have a dead animal, they require from the republic inspector an approval to dispose of it at the cemetery.
Although he is positive that a cattle cemetery is necessary, they do not get many calls: “You know that there is a lot of anarchy here, that people throw away animal remains wherever they want. In the villages we used to see the already decayed dead sows torn by other animals“.
Rendering plants – from best solution to breaching the law
By reworking animal waste in the rendering plants, new products are made from the most hazardous animal remains, which may then be further used or sold. This method of collection and reprocessing has also been prescribed by the European Union.
Animal feedstuffs, meat and bone meal as an energy-generating product or high-calorie fuels like renewable energy sources of biodiesel and biogas can be obtained by proper treatment of animal remains.
Two out of four rendering plants specify that their capacities are not fully utilized, while all four of them are facing problems in their work.
Several court disputes are ongoing against the Sombor veterinary institution “Proteinka“ and its former managers. One of the disputes is conducted due to an alleged discharge of illicit quantities of pollutants into the air, such as nitrogen dioxide, in 2015. Two court disputes are ongoing due to the charges that “Proteinka” representatives failed to act in line with the inspectors’ decisions from 2014 and 2015, according to which, among other things, they were obliged to keep records on their own waste during the reprocessing. A separate dispute is conducted due to an alleged illegal disposal of such waste in the vicinity of the factory, during 2016.
Together with its director at the time, “Proteinka” has already been pronounced judgments – fines for illegal disposal of 1,518 tons of hazardous waste generated during the company’s operations from mid 2007 to February 2009.
Đorđe Zorić, current director of “Proteinka”, refused to talk to the CINS journalists, while during journalist’ visit to the company, the security had banned both – the access and taking the photos.
In spite of the existing rendering plant, Sombor and its surroundings have also been facing for years the problem of the disposal of dead animals. Thus, in March 2017, an employee at the forestry estate Sombor found several dead pigs in the waste disposed at the forest edge. There was a horrid stench spread by a strong wind, something that used to happen previously, as well. It was not before July that the municipal inspector had ordered the Agricultural Office of the city of Sombor to remove the landfill.
Đorđe Stevanović, director of the Ćuprija based institution “Napredak“ says that this rendering plant has high tax debts and debts to creditors, as well as unpaid liabilities to the employees declared redundant, that jeopardize their business operations. Their account has been blocked for more than three years because of the debt of over 20.3 million dinars.
In 2013, the Commercial Court In Kragujevac sentenced the Veterinary Institute “Napredak“ and its former director to fines, for failure to remedy the deficiencies upon the order by the republic veterinary inspector.
In the Zrenjanin based rendering plant “Prekon“ they say that, besides the “emission of unpleasant smells“ they do not have any other serious problems. A court procedure is underway at the Commercial Court in Zrenjanin against this company and its former director on the suspicion of their failure to measure the discharge of pollutants in the first half of 2016.
The rendering plant AIK (Žibel) in Bačka Topola has been facing years’ long citizen protests on the charges that, together with other companies based in the Bačka Topola industrial zone, it participates to contamination of the river Krivaja, as well as that a horrid stench is spreading from the plant.
Participant in the investigation: Bojana Bosanac
The project within which the text was developed is implemented in cooperation with the Belgrade Open School within the programme “Civil Society for Advancement of Serbia’s Accession to the European Union”, with support of Sweden.