Photo by Teuta Gashi.

Animal waste dumping threatens health in Kosovo

The unregulated dumping of body parts from slaughtered animals in landfill sites across Kosovo causes constant distress for people living nearby and also poses the risk of spreading disease.

The Gara family live right next to the Mirash landfill site in the village of Palaj in the Obiliq municipality in central Kosovo. The stench of garbage is pervasive; Xhejlane Gara says that her son has viruses constantly, and that she only rarely opens the windows in her house.

“Every time it’s hot outside, or when it rains, or when the wind blows, everything stinks. We’re endangered by stray dogs as well. They come to our door, and they continuously feed on the trash, and there are lots of birds, they’re always around,” Gara told Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN.

Her family, like many others, endures constant problems with the smell of the animal waste that is dumped at the landfill site – rotting organs that include the stomach, intestines, lungs, as well as blood, horns, hooves, bones and other animal parts, plus their feces and urine.

The slaughterhouses in Kosovo are small; there are no big ones because they cannot fulfil the official criteria. Meanwhile, the slaughtering of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and poultry is not supervised.

Even though the waste that is leftover after slaughtering is supposed to be transported in a controlled manner and then eliminated by burial or burning, neither happens in the country.

This unregulated disposal of animal waste not only pollutes the environment, but also carries the possible danger of distributing diseases or viruses that affect humans and animals.

The collection and transportation of this waste is done by public companies that are licensed by the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning to carry out the work, as well as firms that manage landfill sites. Officials at the ministry say that because there is nowhere else to dispose of animal waste, such as carcasses and by-products from the processing of meat, putting it in municipality landfills is currently the best solution.

“This was the best alternative since in Kosovo there is no proper infrastructure for this type of waste,” said Fadil Maxhuni, director of information at the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning.

The director of the Veterinary and Food Agency, Valdet Gjinovci, warned however that because there are no meat rendering plants in Kosovo where animal waste can be processed and recycled, there is always the possibility of disease spreading or being caused by cross-contamination if the slaughter is not supervised by an authorised veterinarian to ensure the animals are healthy and the process is hygienic.

In the former Yugoslavia, there were two such plants in Kosovo: one in the Gjilan region and one in Fushe Kosove. However, neither are currently functional.

“This waste is transported to general waste landfills, since for the moment a functional meat rendering plant, which could process the animal waste properly according to defined regulations in the legislation that the Veterinary and Food Agency is harmonising with the EU’s regulations, doesn’t exist,” Gjinovci said.

Skender Muji, a professor at the Agriculture Faculty at Pristina University who deals with hygiene and the wellbeing of animals, says that in Kosovo there are no big slaughterhouses, but only mini farms or butcher shops. According to him, the big slaughterhouses should have meat rendering plants.

“There are different ways of organising this. They could burn them, or bury them, but with the latter you should be more careful about where it’s done,” Muji told BIRN. He also said that the transport of animal waste should be done in the proper manner, so that there are no leaks – a suggestion backed by veterinarian Afrim Hamidi.

“It certainly brings viruses. Some are so small that they can be distributed through the air, bacterial diseases as well, but also other infectious diseases that are spread by stray animals,” Hamidi told BIRN.

According to Hamidi, the places where the waste is disposed of – generally in the suburbs of built-up areas – are the most at risk.

Even waste from healthy animals that were slaughtered for consumption can cause problems, as well as infections spread by stray animals, he said.

“If these stray animals get close to intensive farms, then through faeces, urine and the air, they can distribute different agents inside the farm. The most common pathogenic agents are salmonella, campylobacter, E coli, listeria, leptospirosis, clostridium, echinococcus, cysticercus, toxoplasmosis, trihinela, sarkosporidiose, bacillus bacteria, different viral agents that can infect animals and humans,” Hamidi explained.

The director of public health at the Food and Veterinary Agency, Flamur Kadriu, told BIRN that waste from slaughtered animals is not processed at all in Kosovo.

“In Kosovo, the way this waste is processed is not regulated by law. We’re working on legislation to fix this. There is no written rule that establishes what should be done with that waste,” Kadriu said.

“It can spread all animal diseases, which can be transmitted to other animals or even humans,” Kadriu admitted.

The National Institute for Public Health in Kosovo admitted that most slaughterhouses in Kosovo are not controlled and their waste is left anywhere, and it can transmit viruses and various diseases.

Antigona Ukehaxhaj, the chief of analytical and food laboratory at the institute, told BIRN that the institute has done no analysis on the impact of animal waste on human health because it is not in their domain.

“If animals aren’t slaughtered properly, if their waste is left outside in an open space for a long time where other animals have access to it, of course viruses are transmitted and they pose a threat to the environment and the residents around,” Ukehaxhaj said.

In late 2017, a plant that will be compliant with EU standards to process and eliminate animal by-products, including bones, is expected to start work and end the problem of dealing with this kind of waste. The first of its kind in the Western Balkans, it will be financed by EU funds, and its goal is to protect public health and the environment by introducing an effective and safe system for treating animal by-products.

Kosovo’s Minister of European Integration, Bekim Collaku, said that the project will cost of 7.7 million euros, of which 5.7 will be provided by the European Commission through pre-accession IPA funds, and the remaining two million by the Kosovo government.

Until the plant starts operating, people like the Gara family in the village of Palaj will have to keep putting up with the smell of putrid animal waste and the health risks it poses.

This article was produced as part of the Kosovo Fellowship for Quality Reporting, as part of the Media for All project implemented by Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and supported by the EU Office in Kosovo.

30/09/2016 - 09:05

30 September 2016 - 09:05

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.