Tesco suppliers must raise standards to avoid River Wye death, campaigners say | Pollution

River activists are calling for urgent action by Tesco to immediately raise the standards of its poultry and egg suppliers in the Wye Valley as they say the river is at risk of ecological collapse.

The supermarket giant is the biggest customer of major egg and poultry producers based in the region. Campaigners say it holds the key to saving the river from irreparable ecological deterioration caused by high levels of phosphate from the excreta produced by intensive chicken farming.

In a letter from its lawyers to senior executives at Tesco, campaign group River Action said: ‘It is unacceptable for a national retailer like Tesco to support (and indeed demand) intensive chicken production to the detriment and disregard for health. local environments, including the rivers on which communities, including their farmers, depend.

Tesco is the biggest customer of Wye Valley egg producer Noble Foods and chicken producer Avara Foods. Environmental campaigners say that since the supermarket giant switched to Avara as its main supplier of poultry in 2019, the food supply company has expanded its poultry plant in Hereford to meet demand. Avara last month applied for permission to expand its hatchery in Shobdon and is expecting a decision within the next fortnight.

A truck at Avara Foods.  Hereford
Tesco switched to Avara Foods as its main poultry supplier in 2019. Photograph: Alexander Turner/The Guardian

The Wye Valley has become one of the largest concentrations of intensive livestock farming in Europe. Poultry production has soared, with over 20 million birds housed in authorized intensive poultry units alone, each containing over 40,000 birds. Water quality throughout the watershed continues to fail to meet current standards due to high phosphate concentrations. Evidence from Lancaster University research suggests there is 3,000 tonnes of excess phosphorus caused by agriculture in the Wye Valley.

Paul Withers, professor of catchment biogeochemistry at Lancaster University, told a parliamentary inquiry that the excess phosphorus in the Wye catchment is almost 60% higher than the national average, in due to the large quantities of livestock manure produced locally. Poultry is the dominant livestock in the region.

Leigh Day, lawyers for River Action, said in their letter: “The evidence demonstrates that if these issues continue to be ignored, the River Wye will face ecological deterioration beyond a state of repair. High levels of phosphate creating algal blooms will continue to smother river life, destroying biodiversity and wildlife.

“With only a short period of time to save it from ecological death, it is now clear to our customers that Tesco is playing a key role in what will ultimately become the death of the River Wye… it is paramount that Tesco takes action and leads the way to drive change across the river catchment, rather than risk what could become a national scandal if time runs out to save the Wye.

River Action said previous communications with Tesco 18 months ago had not led to any action by the supermarket giant. He is calling on Tesco to raise the environmental standards of its supply chain. He wants Tesco to commit to achieving Leaf Marque standards – a global assurance scheme that recognizes sustainably farmed products – in its poultry supply chain by the end of 2022, and auditing all suppliers against agreed standards by the end of 2022.

It is also calling on Tesco to publish its environmental risk assessments for its poultry supply chain and secure commitments from suppliers to change their practices to ensure pollution stops in the immediate future.

The River Wye
River Action says the ecological death of the Wye is near unless Tesco raises environmental standards in its supply chain. Photograph: Alexander Turner/The Guardian

Charles Watson, Founder and Chairman of River Action, said: “The company does not appear to have recorded that this river is facing ecological collapse due to nutrient pollution caused by the intensive poultry industry. Tesco must not afford to potentially contribute to the destruction of one of the country’s favorite rivers by continuing to source poultry products without demanding significant environmental improvements from suppliers.

High phosphate levels in rivers cause algal blooms, which reduce oxygen levels, destroy wildlife and biodiversity, leading to species loss.

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A Tesco spokesman said: “Protecting and maintaining water quality and biodiversity in our supply chains is an important part of the work we do with our suppliers, and we want to play our part in ensuring the protection of the River Wye, alongside other players in the food industry.

Together with our WWF partners, we have directly funded the work of the Wye & Usk Foundation to tackle water pollution in the region. They work directly with our suppliers on implementing nature-based solutions, including tree planting, as well as supporting farmers to test soils and implement best practices on the farm which all help to reduce pollution in the River Wye.

“We continue to engage with suppliers and stakeholders from all agricultural sectors in the region. »

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