Avara boss pledges action on Wye pollution 'as soon as possible'
Herefordshire’s largest employer has pledged to make good the pollution its farms have caused to the river Wye. But others say it’s too little, too late.
Avara Foods processes two million chickens a week at its Hereford plant, one of the largest in the country, supplied by 120 farms in the Wye catchment.
“We want to reduce the impact that our business creates,” the company’s agricultural director John Reed said on BBC Hereford & Worcester this morning (February 7).
“Supply chains are being monitored more and more closely,” he said. “We want to reduce our carbon footprint we want to reduce any suggestion of pollution or emissions where we can.”
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The company has recently published a “roadmap” outlining the steps it has taken and plans to take to reduce the problem of chicken manure, which is used as fertiliser on nearby fields but is washed into watercourses, harming the wildlife they support.
It has pledged that by 2025, its supply chain will have ceased contributing to excess phosphate in the river Wye catchment.
“We need to as soon as possible to stop producing a surplus of phosphates and we need to have a longer-term plan around the legacy levels [already in the soil],” Mr Reed said.
“They’re all doable, it’s applying the law that’s already in place – all farmers need to be doing that. What we can't do is wish it away, it needs action, it needs people to work together.
“What it doesn’t need are fingers pointing at individuals or businesses as though they are the problem and they are the only ones who are going to provide the solution.”
BBC reporter Nicola Goodwin, who said she had tried “for years” to interview the company on the record, asked if its pledge had been influenced by a lengthy US court case in which Avara’s joint parent company Cargill was recently found guilty of allowing its chickens to pollute the Illinois river, and had been obliged to put forward an action plan to compensate for the damage.
Mr Reed admitted he “didn't know a great deal about” the case, which he “became aware of a few weeks ago”.
“Avara is an independent UK business working to UK legislation,” he said. “It would be unwise to comment on something we didn’t know a great deal about.”
He also said there had been “relatively little conversation until the last six months” between Avara, the Government, the Environment Agency and its Welsh counterpart.
“I’ve been disappointed at the lack of resources that these enforcement agencies have,” he said. “We are accused of being the biggest problem [so] you would expect all these agencies to be knocking on our door first.”
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Mike Dunsbee of Friends of the Lower Wye, which brought the parties together for discussions in November, told show host Elliott Webb that he “didn’t understand” why the authorities hadn’t spoken to Avara previously over the issue.
“The Environment Agency have got to now sit on their backs and tell them to get a move on,” he said. “For Avara to say it will take until 2025 to clear up their bit – it’s just too long.”
He added: “We are pushing for the chicken manure to be taken out of the catchment completely,” and claimed Avara’s proposed solution of treating some of the 156,000 tonnes of chicken manure a year at a new Herefordshire anaerobic digestion plant which has yet to be approved, would use “unproven technology”.
Incinerating the waste instead “would reduce it to ash, making it easier to move out of the area”, Mr Dunsbee said.
Meanwhile, Guardian reporter Nicola Cutcher said that she had been told by Mr Reed that Avara “has until now left the manure to their farmers to deal with as they see fit”.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today this morning: “Introducing stricter standards for manure means writing new contracts, and they’re getting pushback from their farmers. With fertiliser prices high, they are saying, ‘we want to keep our poultry manure, thanks’.”
Ms Cutcher added that the US judgment “shows Cargill knew about the problem of chicken manure since the 1980s” and had introduced manure management standards in 2004.
“People are saying, maybe we should be looking for [reparations] here, but Mr Reed told me it wasn’t on their agenda,” she said.
“But I think the clamour will grow louder from local campaigners who want to see far more action to clean up the Wye.”
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