First legal move in River Wye poultry pollution claim

'Industrial scale chicken farming' is polluting the River Wye, lawyers say (Photo: Phil Wilson)
'Industrial scale chicken farming' is polluting the River Wye, lawyers say (Photo: Phil Wilson)

Lawyers representing hundreds of people impacted by River Wye pollution have written to chicken producer Avara Foods in the first stage of planned legal action.

Law firm Leigh Day has sent a ‘letter before action’ (LBA) to the companies, which also include Avara's subsidiary Freemans of Newent and Avara’s 50% shareholder, Cargill Plc.

The letter sets out details of the nuisance claim against the companies and gives them the opportunity to resolve the dispute before formal court proceedings get under way.

But a spokesperson for Avara said: "We consider the allegations made by Leigh Day to be factually incorrect and fundamentally misconceived."

Leigh Day said that if a satisfactory response was not received by 20 August 2024, preparations would begin to issue the legal claim in the High Court.

The legal letter demands compensation for phosphorus, odour, noise and insect pollution it alleges has been caused by 'industrial-scale poultry production' in the area.

Avara and its subsidiary Freemans together run the largest poultry business in the Wye catchment area, controlling 120 poultry units, and are a major supplier to supermarkets such as Tesco, says the letter.

Cargill imports phosphorus-rich soy which is used to feed the poultry in the units, it adds.

Leigh Day’s clients allege that the companies are responsible for major phosphorus pollution in the Wye and that this has caused algae blooms, cutting oxygen supplies to the river and harmed wildlife for which the river was famous, it is alleged.

The effect of the pollution has been a massive negative impact on people’s enjoyment of the Wye and on businesses which depend on it thriving, the letter explains.

It alleges that following a deal entered into by Cargill Meats Europe to supply Tesco in 2013, poultry numbers increased in Hereford from 13 million to 18 million in the space of just four years.

The rapid growth resulted in a significant increase in the volume of poultry manure being produced in the Wye catchment, the letter explains.

The claim will allege private nuisance, public nuisance and a breach of section 73(6) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, caused by the unlawful deposit of waste.

Leigh Day has given Avara Foods until 20 August 2024 to respond to its letter with a proposed resolution to the claims.

The legal claim is being led by Leigh Day partner Oliver Holland, who said: “We are pleased to announce that the next step in this collective legal action has been taken.

"We have provided Avara Foods, Freemans of Newent and Cargill with a detailed Letter Before Action which sets out the factual and legal allegations of this claim.

"We hope that Avara, Freemans of Newent and Cargill will take this opportunity to engage constructively with the substance of the claim and work with us to avoid court proceedings being issued.

"However, if they do not, our clients will be issuing court proceedings and looking to proceed with this claim through the High Court.”

Avara said: "We are proud of our business, providing high-quality and affordable chicken and turkey for consumers, and we will vigorously defend our position.

"Given the ongoing legal process, we will not be offering further comment at this time.”