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Press Release: Campaigners call for urgent action from the poultry industry to save the River Wye

Campaigners call for urgent action from the poultry industry to save the River Wye

  • River Action writes to two of UK’s leading egg and chicken meat producers, Noble Foods and Avara Foods, calling for action to reduce the severe pollution of the River Wye from intensive poultry production.
  • The letters are signed by River Action advisory board members including Lord Randall, George Monbiot and Feargal Sharkey.
  • This is the third such letter sent to Noble Foods; River Action chair highlights that group is yet to receive credible answers or commitments from Noble on action to address the rapid ecological decline of one of the UK’s most iconic rivers.
  • Avara Foods, one of the UK’s leading producer of chicken meat, sources annually tens of millions of chickens from intensive poultry units from across Wye river catchment to supply its Hereford processing plant. The processes surrounding the intensive production of these birds has been repeatedly linked to the deterioration of the river’s health.

 

21 September 2021: Campaign group River Action is calling on two of the UK’s leading agricultural processing companies, Avara Foods and Happy Egg producer Noble Foods, to address the severe recent ecological deterioration of the River Wye and its wider catchment being largely caused by phosphate run-off from their intensive poultry production supply chains.

The rapidly declining ecological health of the River Wye has been linked widely to the rapid growth of the intensive poultry industry across the river catchment. Each year, thousands of tons of chicken manure is spread across land within the catchment, whilst many of the region’s free range egg farms have open drains which run directly into watercourses.  Water quality monitoring that has been conducted by environmental groups and NGOs across the River Wye catchment, has revealed massively excessive phosphate levels across the river system, which are widely believed to be a direct result of these intensive agricultural practices.

According to research from Natural Resources Wales, over 60% of  River Wye catchment is failing to meet pollution targets, with phosphate levels leading to ‘algal blooms’ which suffocate river life.  A prime cause of these phosphate levels is widely believed to be the manure of  well over 20 million chickens that are being reared at any one time in the Wye catchment.

River Action has now raised the connection between the intensive poultry industry and river pollution multiple times with Noble Foods CEO, Duncan Everett. In its latest letter, the group has reiterated questions about what the producer is doing to mitigate the environmental consequences of its production process. Similarly, River Action is now calling on Avara Foods to do the following:

  • Provide details of what mitigation processes it plans to implement to remove the huge quantities of phosphate-rich chicken manure produced by its supply chain from the river catchment so that the nutrients therein do not end up in the river.
  • Provide details of the specific nutrient management standards the company requires of its third-party chicken suppliers.
  • Provide details of the financial resources that are being allocated by the multi-billion pound company to implement the necessary mitigation processes to remove phosphates from the river catchment.
  • Explain why there is no reference to mitigating the ecological damage caused by the company’s intensive agricultural practices to rivers in its environmental and sustainability reporting.

Noble Foods and Avara Foods are two major suppliers for Tesco. Accordingly, River Action has now reached out to the supermarket group to highlight the environmental damage caused by these producers and to ask what actions are being taken to tackle this.

Commenting on the issue, River Action founder and Chairman Charles Watson said:

“This is now the third time we have written to Noble Foods. After failing to receive a response to our last letter, we are extremely concerned that, despite the ever-growing body of evidence highlighting the damage being wrought on the Wye river catchment by the intensive poultry industry they are simply not taking this issue seriously and have little intention to take adequate steps to tackle the ecological damage caused everyday by their egg production.  

As another huge agri-business in the Wye catchment area, we hope that Avara Foods will be much more responsive to the questions we have asked. If the River Wye is going to stand a chance of ecological survival it is simply essential that immediate plans are implemented to remove from the river catchment the huge quantities of phosphate-rich chicken manure produced by Avara’s supply chain.

 At the same time we await Tesco’s response to our enquiries with great interest. As a world class food retailer committed to the highest environmental standards of supply chain compliance, supplying own-branded products that have been procured from such an environmentally dirty production process is not sustainable ”.

Notes to Editor

The letters referred to in this press release can be found at the followinglinks:

River Action is a registered UK Charity launched in February 2021 that aims to tackle river pollution resulting from UK food supply chains by placing direct pressure on major agricultural suppliers and producers. The group has formed in response to concerning evidence that reveals the declining state of many of the UK’s rivers, including data from the Environment Agency in 2020 that showed for the first time no river in England met quality tests for pollution.

The group was founded and is chaired by Charles Watson and is guided by an Advisory Board which comprises:

  • Francesca Carnibella, Senior Associate, European Climate Foundation (strategic communications team)
  • Ruth Chambers, leads the Greener UK coalition’s work on the Environment Bill and new Office for Environmental Protection
  • Marina Gibson, Ambassador for Angling Trust, Atlantic Salmon Trust, Fishing for Schools and Orvis Fly Fishing
  • Isabella Gornall, Founder and Managing Director, Seahorse Environmental
  • James Macpherson, former Deputy Chief Investment Officer at Blackrock’s Active Equity business
  • George Monbiot, award-winning writer and journalist
  • John Randall, House of Lords Peer
  • Feargal Sharkey, environmental campaigner
  • Amy Slack, Head of Campaigns & Policy at Surfers Against Sewage
  • James Wallace, Chief Executive, Beaver Trust

 

Contact: Alice Russell, Seahorse Environmental – arussell@seahorseenvironmental.co.uk