When European regulations on ozone depleting substances became law last year, local authorities were forced to stockpile discarded refrigerators for nine months while plants were built that could remove the CFCs.
Now, the food industry is threatened with a far worse prospect stockpiles of putrefying waste, warns Geoffrey Molloy, chairman of the UK Association of Frozen Food Producers.
The animal by-products regulation covers everything from a ham sandwich that's past its sell-by date to a fallen farm animal, and requires the products to be incinerated, rendered, composted or treated with biogas to break down the materials.
The legislation is designed to outlaw sending the waste to landfill and burying dead animals on-farm.
DEFRA says retailers' waste is mainly packaged and will warn the EU that the UK's composting treatment plants will not be able to deal with the estimated 750,000 tonnes of it for two or three years.
Meanwhile, retailers have neither the capacity, nor the facilities to separate the meat and non-meat products.
British Retail Consortium director of food policy Richard Ali says Defra has not done enough. There are, for instance, only 15 municipal incinerators in the UK, a situation that is unlikely to change much by 2005.
Working to capacity
Manufacturers have similar doubts. The UKAFFP's Molloy says one member, a manufacturer based in Kent, has been told his nearest approved incinerator is in Warwickshire. Thirteen of those municipal incinerators are operated by waste management company SITA which points out that all of them are working to their 2 million tonne capacity. There are plans for only one new one, and that is on the Isle of Man.
Obtaining planning permission for incinerators has proved a problem and SITA was moving towards recycling before the animal by-products regulation was introduced. Now it says it must reassess its approach.
However, Defra appears confident that the municipal network can cope if it is combined with industrial incinerators and on-farm incinerators.
Speaking at the recent UKAFFP annual lunch, DEFRA food and farming minister Elliot Morley promised that the new rules would not lead to a repetition of the situation caused by the legislation affecting refrigerators, when "regulations came in advance of the capacity to deal with them".
A DEFRA spokeswoman dismissed concerns that the by-products order was patchy and contradictory.
Molloy described it as "a bit piecemeal" because it was developed by different EU member states. And Ali says: "The thrust of the order, which is improved biosecurity, is laudable, but the implementation is penalising the trade. One reason for this mess is that no-one paid any attention to retail when the order was first drafted. Everyone was thinking about fallen animals.
"Now we are not talking about waste; we are talking about bureaucracy."
The Food and Drink Federation and UKAFFP want Defra to sign up to a draft derogation for former foodstuffs circulating in Brussels which would put back implementation to December 31 2005. They say members are in the same boat as retailers. There are insufficient composting or biogas facilities to deal with the low risk animal by-products from food factories.
The time between May 2003 and December 2005 could be treated as a transitional period, during which Category 3 animal by-products from manufacturers could be put in landfill sites, as is the case for catering waste, it argues.
An FDF spokeswoman says: "We believe this would be fully justified, given that Category 3 animal by-products are low risk and we are not aware of any scientific or environmental justification to differentiate between them and catering waste."
Provision Trade Federation manager for regulatory affairs Diana Axby says Defra has told it that the order does not cover milk, eggs and packaging. Axby is now seeking clarification on where in the distribution chain the cut-off comes between retailer and manufacturer. Does it cover goods damaged while being delivered to store, for instance? Axby says: "Defra is not clear on the scope of the order, nor is there significant capacity to carry it out. We would welcome derogation for suppliers as well as for retailers while these issues are resolved."
The British Meat Manufacturers' Association is another body that took part in a Defra consultation which ended last week. Deputy director Camilla Nelson says manufacturers send animal by-products to landfill, at a cost of around £20 a tonne. After the legislation is implemented, the bill is more likely to be between £80 and £90.
She says: "There will be problems, particularly in rural areas where there are no incinerators. And renderers have enough work on already. Our members may find it hard to get a contract with them."
Defra needs to give guidance on a number of practical issues, she says.
Laid back approach'
National Farmers' Union meat industry advisor Barney Kay also wants a derogation for farmers. He says they dispose of up to 250,000 tonnes of fallen animals a year, often through on-farm burial. Roughly six million dead animals would need to be collected and, with only 60 knackers left in Great Britain, how will they cope with demand come May 1?
And how will farmers afford the £72m that the NFU estimates the scheme will cost them in its first year? Defra is putting in £30m, but Kay says this is not new money. "Defra has taken a very laid back approach to the legislation since it was proposed two years ago. With so little time left now, that is negligent." The food chain needs exemption to 2005 plus cash to kickstart the new regime, he adds.
It is possible that retailers at least will escape the legislation until 2005 as a result of the department's intervention on their behalf. But manufacturers and farmers have little hope of a stay of execution. A Defra spokeswoman says: "There is no way there will be a derogation for processors. They knew this was coming."
And that means a mountainous headache.