The food industry is growing increasingly concerned at the implications of new EU rules which it fears could create mountains of putrefying waste.
Retailers and manufacturers say the incineration facilities are simply not in place to cope with the ban on disposing of animal waste by landfill, imposed by the animal by-products regulation which will come into force on May 1.
Animal waste must be separated from non-animal waste and incinerated, rendered or composted.
DEFRA has indicated it will exempt retailers from the regulation until 2005 because they are not ready to comply.
But the department is not including waste from serveover meat counters in that exemption. The British Retail Consortium is concerned that would hit small retailers who sell specialist deli products driving many of them out of business. A letter from BRC director general Bill Moyes to food and farming minister Elliot Morley urges Defra to "treat all retail food waste in the same manner". He says the exclusion from derogation would make it uneconomic for many small retailers to sell specialist deli products.
The BRC's director of food policy Richard Ali said it would also ask the government's Better Regulation Task Force to intervene and stop Defra pursuing "bureaucratic overkill".
Food manufacturers and farmers are also pressing Defra for exemption until 2005.
The Food and Drink Federation, the UK Association of Frozen Food Producers, the Provision Trade Federation and the British Meat Manufacturers' Association have all come forward to argue that the UK is not ready to abandon landfill.
Higher biosecurity methods recommended by the EU such as composting and incineration could not handle the volumes.
The NFU also wants DEFRA to apply for a stay of implementation.
It calculates that 6,000,000 animals a year would have to be disposed of by incineration or rendering and, with just 15 incinerators and 60 renderers, the UK would be unable to cope.
The NFU wants DEFRA to set up a central collection and disposal scheme when the regulation comes into force.
But with less than four weeks to go, it has not received any guidance from the department.
Deputy president Tim Bennett said: "Farmers are extremely concerned about what will be permitted and what they should do once a total ban is imposed."
>>P36 Another mountain to move