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More than a million fowl eliminated in the north of the country following a recent epidemic have been buried in undesignated areas and now threaten the quality of groundwater, according to the Environmental Protection Ministry, which has urged the Agricultural Ministry to stop allowing farmers to bury fowl in their yards and instead transfer the carcasses to designated landfills.

The northern district office of the Environmental Protection Ministry found that ever since the outbreak of Newcastle disease in the area two months ago, two to three chicken coops were destroyed every day, amounting to tens of thousands of fowl. All told, the ministry estimates that more than 1.5 million fowl have been destroyed.

In accordance with guidelines issued by the Agriculture Ministry several years ago, most of the birds that were eliminated were buried right next to their coops, rather than being transfered to landfills or to facilities where their remains could be recycled as fertilizer.

The Environmental Protection Ministry said that some of the fowl were buried in areas where their decomposed remains could infiltrate and pollute groundwater, since their burial pits were not isolated in any way.

Last week, senior officials in the ministry asked Agricultural Ministry director general Yossi Yishai to put an end to the practice of burying fowl next to their coops. Except in cases of clear and immediate veterinary risk, its position is that all chicken carcasses must be sent to landfills or to sites where their remains can be turned into compost.

In response, the Agriculture Ministry said that the burials were carried out according to international guidelines, aimed first and foremost at preventing the spread of disease to other fowl. Transporting the fowl across great distances poses a greater risk, it said. Still, whenever the land in the area of the coops proves difficult for digging, the ministry said, carcasses are transported to certified sites.