Happy Egg producer Noble Foods urged again to clean up its act and the River Wye
- Campaign group River Action has again written to Noble Foods calling on the UK’s largest egg producer to commit urgently to a series of tangible actions to clean up the River Wye.
- This is the second letter sent by the group to CEO Duncan Everett after his response to the group’s first letter appeared to confirm that basic assessments of the environmental impact of Noble Foods’ dozens of intensive poultry units were only just commencing, despite compelling evidence that the manure run-off from the poultry industry has played a major role in the ecological deterioration of the River Wye.
7thApril 2021: Campaign group River Action is again calling on the UK’s largest egg producer Noble Foods to take immediate action to address the significant environmental degradation caused to the River Wye by the intensive poultry industry in the area. The letter is supported and signed by Chairman Charles Watson and the campaign’s advisory board of environmental experts and campaigners, including former Environment Minister Lord Benyon, Feargal Sharkey and George Monbiot.
River Action is currently campaigning for protection of the River Wye, 60% of which is in ecological crisis according to Natural Resources Wales. As the largest egg producer in the Wye region, River Action previously called on Noble Foods to answer critical questions regarding the damaging effect of this production on the river’s ecological health. In his response, CEO Duncan Everett, informed River Action that Noble Foods is working on ‘site visits gaining a greater insight and understanding of the issues faced on farms dealing with soil health, nutrient, and water management’and that they are also now working in close partnership with the Wye & Usk Foundation to consider how it addresses the major issue of nutrient run-off.
River Action welcomes this news from Noble Foods. However, the group has expressed major concerns as to, firstly, why these basic environmental assessments are only starting to take place now and, secondly, why these critical actions had not taken place before the construction of the Intensive Poultry Units.
Accordingly, River Action is calling as a matter of urgency for Noble Foods to:
- Provide a time commitment of when site visits will be completed and publish a summary of findings and details of the plan to address the issue of nutrient run-off.
- Publicly commit to a nutrient mitigation plan with an implementation timetable.
- Commit to invest an appropriate and disclosed level of capital expenditure to implement measures to tackle nutrient run-off.
- Publish an environmental code of standards that third-party producers must adhere to in order to be contracted as a Noble Foods supplier.
- Publish a credible environmental policy statement on the Noble Foods website.
Commenting on the response from Noble Foods, campaign founder and Chairman Charles Watson said: “Whilst we appreciate the response from Noble Foods outlining its plans to address the major issue of nutrient run-off, it is surprising and concerning that a large producer such as Noble Foods doesn’t already have data on critical issues like nutrient and water management across its supply chain and raises the question of whether Noble Foods is operating without sufficient nutrient and water management systems currently in place. This basic monitoring work and mitigation plans should have been in place from the start of Noble’s work with the farms. Given the well documented ecological crisis facing the river Wye catchment, it is imperative that these systems are immediately implemented in current farms and from the outset in new farms.”
River Action Advisory Board member Richard Benyon said: “In his letter, Duncan Everett implies there is a collective responsibility to protect the environment. Whilst of course this is true, large businesses who have made huge financial gains from the destruction of the environment have a responsibility to clean up their mess and lead the industry and others in doing so. As this is the second letter River Action has now sent to Noble Foods, we hope to see some tangible actions put in place that are shared publicly as this is a matter of huge public interest in the Wye catchment and nationally.”
About River Action
River Action is a new environmental campaigning organisation 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 currently comprises:
- Richard Benyon
- Ruth Chambers
- Marina Gibson
- Ben Goldsmith
- Isabella Gornall
- Dr Janina Gray
- James Macpherson
- Nick Measham
- George Monbiot
- Feargal Sharkey
- James Wallace
River Action is currently in the process of registering as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation.
For further information and updates on River Action, please visit: www.riveractionuk.com
About the River Wye
The River Wye is the fifth longest river in the UK, passing through the Welsh borders before joining the Seven Estuary. It is widely acknowledged as one of the UK’s most iconic rivers, hosting a range of wildlife, including the Atlantic salmon. There has been a range of coverage documenting the River Wye’s decline and the impact poultry farms have on the increase in algal blooms:
- According to the calculations of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) Shropshire, as of 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.
- In a public statement, Wales Environment Link writes that sites producing 6,000,000 birds have been approved in the Wye catchment in the past five years alone. This is believed to have led to a two-fold increase of phosphate levels in the lower Wye in the past six years.
- It was reported last summer in the UK national press that “Chicken excrement rich in phosphates and other chemicals gets spread on the ground around sheds and is being flushed into the river, causing deadly algal blooms to spread. And the problem is becoming increasingly severe as more and more free-range poultry farms are built near the 134-mile-long river. River plants such as ranunculus are being suffocated, oxygen is taken from the water, and the river’s brown trout, chubb and barbel are dying off”.
- Campaign for the Protection of Rural Waleshas also said it is concerned by the impact on the Powys landscape of large poultry units.
- A report by Natural Resources Wales published in December 2020 provides a comparison of phosphorus concentrations in the Wye against targets and indicates widespread failures, some of them large in magnitude. 14 water bodies passed their targets, 28 failed and three were unknown. The largest failures were the Wye near Newbridge, the Cammarch, Clettwr Brook, Mithil Brook, lower Irfon, Garth Dulas and the three water bodies in the Llynfi catchment.
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