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In the summer of 2020, the deterioration of the River Wye made headlines. Reports in the Times, the Guardian, the BBC and Country File documented the river’s severe decline in ecological and chemical health. One article described it as a “wildlife death trap”.

Reports indicate that over 60% of the Wye is facing an ecological crisis. It is widely believed that unless immediate and meaningful remedial action is not taken, the Wye eco-system will suffer irreversible ecological damage.

‘It's like pea soup’: poultry farms turn Wye into wildlife death trap The Guardian, June 2020

The river’s deteriorating state has been attributed to the unprecedented and disproportionate growth in poultry farms around the headwaters of the Wye. As at July 2020, in the counties of Shropshire, Herefordshire and Powys there are 500 farms with a total of 1,420 intensive poultry units/sheds, containing over 44 million birds. Numbers have been monitored by the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales (CPRW) in Powys and through an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded project by Cardiff University in Herefordshire and Shropshire.  The run off of nutrients from chicken excrements from these farms is believed to have led to a major increase of phosphate levels in the river catchment in the past six years, causing the river to now exceed permitted levels of phosphates under the European Union (EU) Habitats Directive.

“Free-range egg farms choking life out of the Wye” The Sunday Times, June 2020

Noble Foods is the UK’s largest egg producer – supplying the majority of the UK’s major supermarkets. The company also owns a number of leading UK brands such as Happy Egg, the UK’s leading egg brand. We believe that the fact that this major agribusiness is sourcing its eggs from an area where poultry farming has been linked to severe environmental damage is of great public interest. Despite the high standards of environmental compliance and supply chain integrity now expected by all the UK’s major food retailers, we find it concerning that, to date, Noble Foods does not appear to have given any detailed information on how it is working with farmers to help mitigate the problem.

Accordingly, River Action has written to Noble Foods and requested the company  do the following:

  • Provide details of the mitigation processes that Noble Foods has implemented on its owned egg production sites to prevent nutrient run-offs.
  • Share details of the environmental standards to prevent nutrient run-offs within Noble Foods’ procurement policies that third party egg producers must adhere to.
  • Quantify the amount of money Noble Foods has invested in run-off mitigation measures over the last 12 months and what capital expenditure is allocated going forwards.
  • Provide details of their reported work to remedy pollution with the Wye and Usk Foundation: what this comprises; what the likely outputs are and when they will be implemented.
  • State whether supplying major UK supermarkets eggs from an area where poultry farming is linked to environmental degradation contravenes of the environmental standards expected by those major customers.
  • In the context of the issues surrounding nutrient run-offs, give evidence of the policies and practices implemented to support Noble Foods’ claim that they “strive for sustainability in all that [they] do”.
  • Justify the omission from Noble Foods’ recent ‘Environmental Sustainability Programme’ of any reference to arguably the most significant environmental issue facing the business – ecological damage done by nutrient run-off of chicken excrement into river systems.
  • Supply a copy of Noble Foods’ Environmental Report with immediate effect.

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