Aboveground Burial for Managing Catastrophic Losses of Livestock

Figure 1

My colleagues and I are happy to announced that our recent work on aboveground burial was published in the peer-reviewed journal, International Journal of One Health.  The purpose of the work was to operationalize aboveground burial as an animal carcass management tool that offers more environmental protection than traditional burial.

We are interested in this tool for 2 primary applications:  catastrophic livestock losses due to natural disasters anywhere in the world and disease outbreaks in developing nations where other more resource intensive methods may not be practical.

The recent hurricanes across the Caribbean are an example of the type of scenario where aboveground burial might prove to be a valuable disposal option.  Natural disasters often result in dramatic livestock losses during a time when human and financial resources are limited.  In these situations, aboveground burial might offer an alternative that is quick and inexpensive to implement yet offers greater environmental protection than traditional burial methods.

Animal disease outbreaks always strain a nation’s financial and technical resources.  In developing nations, the burden of responding to animal diseases such as avian influenza, foot and mouth disease and African swine fever can be even greater than in countries with more financial resources.  Our hope is that aboveground burial may eventually be a tool that will support these countries’ ability to respond effectively to these outbreaks.

If you would be interested in exploring aboveground burial in more detail, feel free to contact me.  An abstract of the article follows and the complete text can be found at the following link:  http://www.onehealthjournal.org/


Background and Aim: Environmental impacts from carcass management are a significant concern globally. Despite a history of costly, ineffective, and environmentally damaging carcass disposal efforts, large animal carcass disposal methods have advanced little in the past decade. An outbreak today will likely be managed with the same carcass disposal techniques used in the previous decades and will likely result in the same economic, health, and environmental impacts. This article overviews the results of one field test that was completed in Virginia (United States) using the aboveground burial (AGB) technique and the disposal of 111 foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) infected sheep in Tunisia using a similar methodology.

Materials and Methods: Researchers in the United States conducted a field test to assess the environmental impact and effectiveness of AGB in decomposing livestock carcasses. The system design included a shallow trench excavated into native soil and a carbonaceous base placed on the bottom of the trenches followed by a single layer of animal carcasses. Excavated soils were subsequently placed on top of the animals, and a vegetative layer was established. A similar methodology was used in Tunisia to manage sheep infected with FMDs, Peste des Petits Ruminants virus, and Bluetongue Virus.

Results: The results of the field test in the United States demonstrated a significant carcass degradation during the 1-year period of the project, and the migration of nutrients below the carcasses appears to be limited thereby minimizing the threat of groundwater contamination. The methodology proved practical for the disposal of infected sheep carcasses in Tunisia.

Conclusions: Based on the analysis conducted to date, AGB appears to offer many benefits over traditional burial for catastrophic mortality management. Ongoing research will help to identify limitations of the method and determine where its application during large disease outbreaks or natural disasters is appropriate.

Published by gafloryconsulting

Gary Flory is an independent adviser who has consulted, written guidance, conducted research and given presentations to national and international audiences on counter-agroterrorism, emerging infectious diseases, carcass disposal, One Health and foreign animal disease response. Gary was deployed to the Midwest on 5 separate occasions in support of USDA’s efforts to control Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza outbreaks and was a lead author of USDA’s Mortality Composting Protocol for Avian Influenza Infected Flocks. Gary has written for a number of journals including recent articles on counter-agroterrorism, the weaponization of emerging infectious diseases and biosurveillance for the journal Chemical, Biological and Nuclear Warfare. He frequently shares his expertise at conferences and training events across the country and around the globe including recent events in Azerbaijan and Malaysia. Gary participates in a variety of working groups including the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Agricultural Workgroup; Virginia Poultry Disease Taskforce; Animal Health Quadrilateral Meeting of the Emergency Management Task Group & Disposal, Destruction & Disinfection Network; BioWatch Extended Veterinary Network; and the Virginia Catastrophic Livestock Mortality Taskforce. He was recently awarded the Agency Star award by the Governor of Virginia for his community service and leadership on animal disease response and agroterrorism.

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