EU to investigate Kilkenny farmers toxic cows

Dan Brennan's farm in Castlecomer, Kilkenny overlooks the Ormonde Brick factory where shale from a local mine is converted to building materials. Trees on Mr Brennan’s farm are dead and his cattle don’t gain weight. A report by the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency was commissioned to find out why. Mr Brennan has long alleged that the brick factory is the cause of these problems, though there is no proof of this. Department officials were not allowed to investigate the brick factory as a source of pollution in this latest report.

Mr Brennan wasn’t satisfied with the results of the report, which found some of the highest levels of cadmium ever recorded in the EU but failed to blame any source for the contaminant. He petitioned the European Parliament. The EU Commission is now investigating the cadmium pollution allegations that Mr Brennan has been making against Ormonde Brick for the last 19 years.

The toxic heavy metal cadmium is an acknowledged by-product associated with brick kilns, yet when Mr Brennan’s cows displayed 90% of the symptoms associated with cadmium poisoning the Department of Agriculture accused Mr Brennan of poor disease management.

“The Department have done their utmost to blame me”, said Mr Brennan, referring to his six year battle with the Department of Agriculture. “Any farmer who sticks his head up about industrial pollution, the Department blames them, but they can’t back up their allegations.”

Simon White who was appointed by the Irish Farmers Association as a scientific liaison between Mr Brennan and the department said that this is departmental policy.

“The stance that the department has taken is that they most rule out any on-farm problems first," Simon White said. "The organisms found in nature are very effective at breaking down contaminants and by the time the department gets around to testing for industrial pollution the horse has bolted.

“It happened to John Hanrahan in Tipperary and the Askeaton farmers in Limerick and it is happening here. The department went through their farming practices with a fine tooth comb. The farmers go to the authorities in good faith and it all gets turned over onto the farmer.”

John Hanrahan’s case against the pharmaceutical company Merck Sharp and Dohme was once the longest-running civil case in Irish legal history. It took 10 years and went to the Supreme Court before Merck Sharp and Dohme’s liability was established.

Similar to Dan Brennan’s battle with the Department of Agriculture, a key part of Merck Sharp and Dome’s defence was an attempt to paint John Hanrahan as a bad farmer.

The department conducted trials in 2003 and 2004 on Mr Brennan’s farm. They placed their own cattle on the farm and conducted feeding tests to establish what was causing the symptoms which included lack of thrive, stunted growth and low milk yields.

An unpublished report in 2006 based on the trial concluded that Mr Brennan’s disease control was to blame, despite the department’s own cattle suffering from the same symptoms. Mr Brennan described the 2006 report as an attempt to blame him but said that the Department of Agriculture couldn't explain what happened to its own cattle.

The most recent report published by the Department of Agriculture last week exonerated Mr Brennan’s farm management but the report failed to reach any definitive conclusions. Four separate studies in the report identified extremely high levels of cadmium in animals on the farm for which no explanation could be found. Two of Mr Brennan’s cows were found to have the highest levels of cadmium ever recorded in the EU. The levels were so high that the Department of Agriculture dismissed them as tainted.

A spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture said: “The report sets out the results of the investigation and the understanding of the authors at this time. It clearly states the findings in relation to Cadmium. It also says that further work is warranted in regard to the source of the high background levels observed”.

“In terms of the exceptionally high peak levels observed in the animals in July 2007 it has concluded that these results may not be correct and presented the arguments for this conclusion.”

Mr White described the omission of the cadmium samples as convenient.

“They conveniently set aside the most damning data, the cadmium. There is no credible reason why they are dismissing it. It looks like they are dismissing it because it doesn’t fit the picture they are trying to present.”

The spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture stated that it was not the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture to investigate the origin of the cadmium and that this was a matter for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Cement Roadstone Holdings, the parent company of Ormonde Brick welcomed the findings of the report. A spokesperson for the company said: “The report concludes intensive and far-reaching investigations, including nine government-commissioned studies, on the farm over a period of several years. The findings of this report have been internationally peer-reviewed. Ormonde Brick provided full co-operation to all state agencies involved in this process.

“We note the conclusion that there is no evidence to link the Ormonde Brick factory with the specific problems that have been investigated on the farm.”

The Environmental Protection Agency provided all the information in the report that related to the Ormonde Brick factory. This information was gathered under the Integrated Pollution Prevention Control license. This license did not require the EPA to monitor the cadmium emissions from the factory or the background levels in the area as to do so with current technology would be too expensive.

Mr Brennan, exasperated after his dealings with the EPA, said: “I thought the EPA were supposed to protect farmers and the environment. It’s clearly not the case here. The fact that they are not able to give a credible explanation for the levels of cadmium, I just can’t deal with that.”