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Parliamentary questions
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5 August 2013
Question for written answer E-009475-13
to the Commission
Rule 117
Andrea Zanoni (ALDE)

 Subject:  Cattle die-off caused by botulism poisoning in Trebaseleghe (Padua): possible link to biogas digesters
 Answer in writing 

A cattle die-off occurred in Trebaseleghe (Padua) in May 2013; the cause was botulism poisoning. The ASL (local health unit) responded to this incident, involving about fifty animals, by sealing off the farm concerned, which consequently incurred a financial loss amounting to EUR 100 000. How the infection happened is still a mystery, but the findings of epidemiological investigations carried out immediately afterwards suggest that the cattle may have ingested the toxin while feeding off hay spread on the ground(1).

Botulism, which can also be fatal in humans, is caused by Clostridium botulinum, an anaerobic bacterium which produces botulinum neurotoxin, the most toxic substance to have been discovered to date. There might be a cause-and-effect relationship between cattle botulism and neighbouring biogas digesters, the reason being that Clostridium botulinum can be contained in digested biogas production waste, which is spread on soil once the production process has been completed.

There are, moreover, four biogas power plants operating within a radius of 3-4 km of the farm affected by the serious incident described above: three are in Trebaseleghe (Padua), and one is in Piombino Dese (Padua).

According to research conducted by Professor Helge Boehnel, an eminent botulism expert who for the last 10 years has headed the German-based Göttingen University Institute of Applied Biotechnology in the Tropics(2), about a thousand deaths from cattle botulism have occurred in recent years in those parts of Germany which have biogas digesters(3).

1. Is the Commission aware of the serious cattle die-off in Trebaseleghe described in the opening paragraph?

2. What will it do in order to throw full light on the possible cause-and-effect relationship between biogas digesters and cattle botulism and to determine whether the practice of spreading digested production waste on soil is acceptable from the biosafety and biosecurity point of view?

(1)See http://www.veneziatoday.it/cronaca/epidemia-botulino-allevamento-distributore-mucche-latte-trebaseleghe-martellago.html
(2)See http://cremonademocratica.org/2012/10/19/di-biogas-si-puo-anche-morire-allarme-del-professor-boehnel-delluniversita-di-gottinga/
(3)A report on this burning issue published in a leading German magazine in May 2011 was graphically entitled ‘Tod aus der Biogasanlage’ (death from the biogas plant). See http://goo.gl/fyxYfN

Original language of question: ITOJ C 88 E, 27/03/2014
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