Hallelujah, the extended winter is dying, and barbecue season is almost here. I can't wait, and I don't care about that saying, "until April's dead, shed not a thread." There'll probably be a few days of barbecuing in a parka, but it's worth it.

I'm not the only one salivating. Meat processors' eyes light up when barbecue season arrives and sales rise. In fact, meat purchases have been moving upwards for many years, even through Canada's mad cow scare. This trend is part of a global movement which is projected to see meat production worldwide double by 2020, particularly in countries where the standard of living is on the rise.

The federal government, through Canada's Food Guide, tells us meat is part of a balanced diet. The guide gives us some pretty precise guidelines for consumption.

But traditionally, Ottawa hasn't told farmers or others precisely what to do with the waste from their small on-farm processing facilities — if they have them. Or, what to do with dead livestock. It's not a pretty side of agriculture but, increasingly, waste is something all members of society have to deal with. And as meat consumption increases, so does waste.

Once, when a farmer had an animal die, or processed on-site, the remains were either buried or carted off for free by a rendering plant. But the free-disposal deal ended as regulations tightened, mad cow disease concerns took hold and markets for rendered products shrunk. The casual approach to burying a carcass was over.

This summer, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is expected to come out with more stringent waste-disposal regulations for what's called specified risk materials — mainly, parts of the central nervous system. The agency's concerned about waste from processors and farmers, and among its goals are to get a better handle on as many sources as possible of mad cow-causing agents called prions, which are associated with specific risk materials.

It's not known exactly how these regulations will unfold. But research is underway to try to help farmers prepare.

One such study is the brainchild of University of Guelph graduate Rob Michitsch, now a PhD student in biological engineering at Dalhousie University, working with the Nova Scotia Agricultural College. He's immersed in something called biopiles, composted biological entities, such as livestock carcasses.

On three test plots near the college, he's trying to gauge how disease-causing organisms, called pathogens, from composting animals move into the soil and potentially into drinking water sources. So far, he's found they don't. He's been at it since 2004, and during that time he says his studies show the composting process removes almost all the pathogens. Over 18 to 24 months, he says biopiling will reduce waste volume by an impressive 75 per cent.

Here's what he did. In three five-foot deep cells, each 10 feet wide, 15 feet long and affixed with a foot of sawdust on the bottom, he poured the equivalent of four 45-gallon drums of animal waste, the real McCoy from a nearby lamb processing plant. On top of that, he put another foot of sawdust. The bottom of the cell had a gravel bed, a foot of soil and a cement floor with a drain, so he could collect whatever seeped through. Then, he let it ferment.

And ferment it did. He turned the brew after six months, so the biological action of the bacteria kept the temperatures in the compost high enough to break down tissue, and even bone.

Because this compost is made from animal remains, it can't be used on land where animals would graze, or where a food crop would be grown for humans. But Nova Scotia has a huge Christmas tree production industry. How about there? Or as a cap for abandoned landfills? Or on strictly forested land? Despite urban sprawl, in Canada, there's lots of forested land.

Michitsch says enthusiasm is growing for his approach. Earlier this year he was the sole recipient of a scholarship from the Canadian Meat Science Association, to present his research to a group of his peers at a scientific conference in Vancouver. His talk was embraced by the association and the Canadian Meat Council, and became an active part of conversation at the three-day event, which was attended mainly by meat-product marketers.

The key is whether the process will be affordable for farmers, who are still reeling from the mad cow disease crisis and the U.S. border closure. Another wild card is whether Ottawa will give farmers the green light to attempt this on their own land. Michitsch thinks they might, on a case-by-case basis. That will create a lot more bureaucracy and paperwork. But those two words are synonymous with modern farming, and public protection. In the end, consumers will have to help farmers shoulder the extra costs. That's the price for sustainability, and affluence.

Owen Roberts teaches agricultural communications at the University of Guelph.