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Animal farms in the wasteland

Manure is flowing freely into the environment leading to a pool of green slime in the open fields.

Manure is flowing freely into the environment leading to a pool of green slime in the open fields.

Cows destined to be consumed as beef are being kept in filthy conditions - some can be seen wading through their own manure - at some farms in the Magħtab area.

Magħtab hosts a concentration of animal farms supplying beef, pork, rabbits and poultry (including eggs and milk). These farms should follow strict EU hygiene regulations to prevent the spread of disease through food.

In Magħtab, however, manure is flowing freely into the environment leading to a pool of green slime in the open fields. It mixes with the waste piled up outside the farms, ranging from corroded washing machines to abandoned sofas.

In one farm, the corrugated roofs of the buildings where the animals are kept are broken, leaving the room open to the elements, while the grey walls are dirty and the floor is covered with residue.

It could not be confirmed whether this particular farm had a permit because the Rural Affairs Ministry did not forward a list of licensed farms four weeks after a request was made by The Sunday Times.

Director General for Veterinary Services Anthony Gruppetta said when contacted that the list would run into thousands because of the small farms scattered around the island. Most European Union member states produce the list online.

The EU obliges Malta to ensure the registration of farms which place farm animals on the market and any person engaged in the trade of such animals.

Improvements could be seen on some of the farms undergoing works to improve conditions.

A spokesman for the Kooperattiva Produtturi tal-Ħalib, which supports dairy farms, said when contacted that most dairy farms were privately owned, mainly family run, and that many had been upgraded.

"The upgrading of dairy farms and their management is a continuous and ongoing process to improve efficiency, quality, hygiene and compliance to required standards... this shows the commitment of the local dairy producer to continue to meet higher standards, to be competitive and sustainable," the spokesman said.

Some farm animals were observed to be in a better state than others living in poor conditions on farms situated beneath the monumental dumpsite which contains a cocktail of toxic waste generated over more than three decades. One path leading to a farm was created by digging up an old part of the dumpsite, exposing compacted waste and garbage bags throughout the wall lining the path.

Magħtab Residents Association president John Portelli said: "The acrid stench originating from the so-called animal farming area is compounded by the smells coming from the landfill causing great distress to the residents of Magħtab and Baħar ic-Cagħaq."

The farming community in the EU is subject to some of the most complex body of rules. One of the numerous directives on food safety (Council Directive 2008/119/EC) laying down minimum standards for the protection of calves, states:

"Faeces, urine and uneaten or spilt food must be removed as often as necessary to minimise smell and avoid attracting flies or rodents" and "the lying area must be comfortable, clean, and adequately drained and must not adversely affect the calves".

These are only two of a string of conditions on the upkeep of farms to protect the health of animals, in particular food-producing animals.

The European Commission's food safety policy applies an integrated approach from farm to table covering all sectors of the food chain, from feed production to the sale of meat products. The Rural Affairs Ministry said a sample of farms was targeted each year and checks were conducted in line with regulations.

"There are numerous visits to farms to identify the newborn animals to enable us to keep track of their movements and growth until they are transformed into food or start producing food. The animals are checked to ensure that they are healthy, and tested when slaughtered to ensure the wholesomeness of the meat," the ministry's spokesman said.

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