Authorities in the European Union are struggling with a shortage of capacity to incinerate meat-based animal feed, outlawed since early 2001 over fears of mad cow disease, EU Food Safety Commissioner David Byrne said.

Byrne told a meeting of EU farm ministers on Oct. 23 that incineration capacity in the 15-nation bloc was more than one million tonnes less than required to destroy the 3.64 million tonnes of meat-and-bone meal piling up in Europe's warehouses, reported Reuters.

He said he feared that because it was being produced faster than it was being destroyed, some stocks of the potentially dangerous feed could find their way onto the market either within the EU or in other countries.

"My concern is that problems could arise from poor or illegal disposal or storage methods, including illegal uses of such material and their export due to the lack of alternative outlets or storage capacity," he said.

The EU banned the use of meat-based livestock feed in January over fears that fodder contaminated with mad cow disease was still being used to feed cattle, a practice that had been outlawed for years.

The first cases of mad cow disease in Germany and Spain in October last year highlighted a potential problem with controls, forcing the Commission to act, officials said at the time.

Exports of contaminated meal has also been blamed for spreading the cattle brain-wasting disease beyond the EU's borders. Cases have turned up in eastern Europe and Japan.

Byrne's comments follow a survey of member states which showed that Italy, with an incineration capacity of 100,000 tonnes, had some 480,000 tonnes of meat and bone meal waiting to be incinerated. Spain, with a capacity of just 40,000 tonnes, had 420,000 tonnes piling up in its warehouses.

France, the EU's major agriculture producer, had 790,000 tonnes of meal waiting to be destroyed but only had a capacity of handle 350,000 tonnes, the survey showed.

Germany, on the other hand, has a 1.5 million tonne incineration capacity but with only 600,000 tonnes in store.

Byrne called on member states to act swiftly.

"We cannot blindly ban a potentially dangerous practice or product while ignoring the necessity to ensure that such a ban can be effectively implemented," Byrne told the ministers.

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