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Environment watchdog investigates unlicensed horse cemetery in Victoria’s south-west

Environment watchdog investigates unlicensed horse cemetery in Victoria’s south-west

A pit in a paddock behind the Bamganie pet cremation service where horses and other animals are buried

Anthony Van Dyck, a thoroughbred racehorse who died at the 2020 Melbourne Cup was taken along a two-lane highway to his final destination. Most people have never heard about it.

The Bamganie Pet Cremation Service can be found at Lethbridge, 100 kilometres west from Melbourne. It provides “compassionate, respectful, and quality end-of-life care” for large and medium animals.

It emits black smoke from an industrial incinerator at the end a tree-lined avenue.

There are hundreds of horses that end up here, but not all of them are cremated.

The company offers a “shared funeral service” for a lower fee. This involves animals such as horses being “laid to repose” in a mass grave pit located at the edge of a paddock.

They call themselves a “pet cemetery”.

VetPartners, an American conglomerate worth $250 million, owns the business. It has been used by equine vets in the racing industry and other horse owners for years.

In 2020, VetPartners purchased the asset from National Veterinary Care Ltd (NVC).

NVC purchased the crematorium in 2017 from its original owner.

A pit in a paddock behind the Bamganie pet cremation service where horses and other animals are buried
A pitbehind Bamganie pet Cremation Service where horses or other animals are buried(ABC Ballarat: Rhiannon Stevens)

An ABC Regional investigation revealed that Bamganie Pet Cremation Service has been operating without an Environment Protection Authority landfill licence for a decade.

The ABC has learned that hundreds of horses have been buried here in the past ten years without any monitoring of biosecurity or contamination risks.

Acceptance of dead animals and animal tissue

The 1993 municipal land use agreement provided for Landfill and Incineration of Veterinary Waste established the site.

It took dead animals, animal tissue, carcasses, or other animal waste.

Dead horses Bamganie Pets Cremation Service Lethbridge
Bamganie Pets Cremation Service in Lethbridge north west Geelong(ABC Ballarat: Charlotte King)

According to the archive of the former Leigh Shire Council, this was allowed provided that the landfill operated in compliance with the “Environment Protection Authority works approval” and licensing conditions.

The landfill’s last EPA license was issued in October 2010. It lists a variety of conditions, reporting requirements, and auditing requirements.

The site’s landfill licence expired in 2011 and the EPA confirmed that no current landfill license exists.

However, the site continues to accept carcasses and continues to advertise the burial services on its website.

Sources claim that the ABC trucks transport dead horses and other animals to the rear property, where they are buried in large pits without lining.

A vet with two of his horses
Ed Annand says that monitoring and risk assessment are necessary when horses are buried to prevent the spread of disease.(ABC Gippsland: Emma Field)

“The problem with it is that there is an unknown risk,” Dr Ed Annand, a University of Sydney zoonotic researcher/equine vet, said.

“When large numbers of animals are buried there is a need to monitor the environment and the risk.”

Dr Annand stated that horse carcasses could produce more than 100 litres per year of leachate. This is a liquid that results from the decomposition animal tissue and could be contaminated with unknown pathogens.

Dr Annand stated that the decomposition fluid is particularly toxic to the environment, especially waterways.

“The key thing is to investigate the possible links, the survival and containment of different pathogens at the facility.

“And that’s still unknown at this point.”

EPA investigating

Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority started an investigation into the site’s activities after the ABC contacted it. It is currently conducting an audit on the licences attached at the address.

The EPA released a statement saying that it would continue to assess the situation in Lethbridge with respect to pet disposal properties.

According to the agency, they have not identified any immediate environmental threats but are actively investigating the situation and will continue to assess it.

The property is located in an intensive farming precinct. It is surrounded by large-scale chicken farms, which were at the heart of an avian influenza outbreak in 2020. Nearly half a million birds were killed.

Agriculture Victoria confirmed that it had initially considered disposing of hundreds of thousands of chickens, which were euthanized during the outbreak, but decided to take them elsewhere.

It’s also near a nature preserve that the environment department has declared home to threatened species.

Top racing vets use the facility

Sources tell the ABC that Racing Victoria has endorsed a number equine vets, including Werribee’s main equine hospital, U-Vet. These vets have sent horses to be buried and cremated at the facility.

It is not possible to say that Bamganie clients knew about the status of their EPA licenses.

U-Vet said that any horse that is euthanized at this centre is either taken by the owners, sent to cremation, or, with permission from the owners, can undergo a post-mortem inspection and be used in pathology or anatomy teaching purposes.

The spokeswoman said that horses that have undergone post-mortem examination are taken to a reputable operator in the industry who collects the remaining parts and disposes of them in landfill.

The centre stated that it has “every confidence” in the practices of third parties and has regular and clear oversight over their processes.

a factory building in a paddock
Bamganie Pet Cremations has a crematorium located at Lethbridge, 100 kilometers west of Melbourne.(Supplied)

According to U-Vet, the Bamganie location is not used by its stock removal contractor at the moment.

The ABC asked the company further questions about its use of the Bamganie cemetery or crematorium in the past ten years.

Racing Victoria stated in a statement that it “doesn’t contract the services of Bamganie Pets Cremation Service”.

“If such facilities are used by service providers, we would expect them make sure that they are EPA approved and operate within all government guidelines,” read the statement.

See Also

“In light of the allegations made with [Racing Victoria]We have asked our service providers to refrain from using this facility for any other purpose than cremations.

A knackery with a sign in front that reads 'Maffra Knackery'
The Maffra District Knackery became the center of a pet-food scandal when horses it processed caused 27 pet dog deaths(ABC Gippsland: Rio Davis)

Knackery closures can cause headaches

A recent report on the thoroughbred industry revealed that there are not many guidelines in Australia regarding how to dispose off horse carcasses at their end of life.

Horses that have received lethal barbiturates should not be used in pet foods. Some jurisdictions prohibit the burial of horses who have been given the poison.

After a scandal involving pet food that led to the deaths of 27 dogs, most Victorian knackeries stopped taking horses. It was traced back at toxic horse meat from the Maffra district Knackery.

an older man in a grey shirt
Steve Dennis claims that vet practices are having trouble disposing of horses(ABC Sunshine Coast: Amy Sheehan)

The Equine Association conducted a November survey and found that a third of its members had difficulty finding a place to send horses that have died or were euthanized.

Steve Dennis, president of EVA, stated that “these services that we used, that could redeem costs through rendering horse meat as pet food, are shrinking” and that they may never return to what they were.

He stated, “These kinds of cremation pick-up organizations will likely fill the void.”

Dr Dennis indicated that cremation can cost as much as $2,000.

Dr Dennis stated that it would be more expensive to address the problem.

He wants a common approach to the problem across all states.

an aerial view of a landfill site
Drysdale, in the City of Greater Geelong, accepts livestock carcasses.(Supplied: Simon Winter)

The conversion of animal waste into energy

The City of Greater Geelong has a Drysdale landfill that can take 70 tonnes of livestock carcasses per year.

David Neal, the leader of the Council waste service team, said that they take around 70 tonnes each year of animal carcasses into their landfill. The landfill is closely monitored with routine visits by the EPA.

He said, “It’s more than just digging a hole where you can put waste. It has to be completely compacted and lined.”

“It has a drainage layer and a leachate drainage network. All of that has to be fully engineered and audited by EPA-approved auditors,” Mr Neal stated.

According to the facility, there has been an increase in horses accepted since the majority stopped taking them from knackeries.

Along with other waste, methane is also converted into energy from carcasses.

A man in work gear
Dave Neal states that the City of Greater Geelong’s landfill pit is fully lined, and monitored to manage animal carcasses.(ABC Gippsland: Emma Field)

He said, “So we’re producing approximately 2,300 homes, powered with the gas extraction we’re receiving form our cells.”

Bamganie Pet Cremations nor VetPartners representatives were available for interview. But, VetPartners stated in a statement to the ABC that the company was in dialogue with the EPA and monitors operational processes as part their routine operations.

The ABC did not ask the Victorian government questions and referred all inquiries to the EPA.

The agency stated in a statement that it had not identified any immediate environmental threats, but would continue to evaluate the situation.

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