BBC Farming Today asked me for my reaction to the news that Avara Foods is stopping chicken manure from its supply chain being sold as a fertiliser within the Wye catchment. You can read the letter Avara has sent to its suppliers. It also has plans to trial new manure management standards for farms who wish to use the manure on their own land.
I welcome the fact that, in the short term, Avara has recognised that they “need to act urgently” to get manure out of the catchment. This is a major step forward from the biggest poultry producer in the area. I doubt it would have happened without public pressure.
It’s also been a long time coming. Cargill (which jointly owns Avara) has known since the 1980s about the damaging nature of high quantities of poultry manure to rivers - as a Judge in the US recently made clear. In 2004, Cargill & other poultry companies published adverts promising residents in Oklahoma that they’d develop manure management standards for muck spreading & ship more out the catchment. Sound familiar? Over the last 18 years Cargill expanded its operations on the Wye without mitigation.
Avara says farms who want to spread muck on their own land will have to comply with new soil management standards being developed by Red Tractor. Red Tractor does not have a good environmental record - so we need to see what these new standards are & how they’ll be audited. As I previously reported in an exclusive story for The Times, an internal report from the Environment Agency found that Red Tractor farms were more likely to fail environmental inspections than farms who were not part of the scheme. The devil will be in the detail. I hope they get it right.
Ultimately Avara's model of factory farming is out of balance with its environment and unsustainable. It imports soya from South America to feed the chickens. It will now expend emissions transporting the manure somewhere else. We need system change.