A POULTRY firm with a factory in Hereford has come under fire after it was revealed its chicken feed comes from farms linked to fire and deforestation in Brazil.

Campaigners warned these chickens from food giant Cargill, processed in Hereford under the Avara banner, are then being sold in Britain's supermarkets and fast food outlets.

An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Greenpeace UK's Unearthed tracked soya beans transported from suppliers in Brazil's Cerrado, where land is burned to clear it for crops, for chicken feed in the UK.

The soya beans in the shipment were processed and fed to chickens reared in the UK by agribusiness Cargill, which sells them to companies including Tesco, Asda, Lidl, Nando's and McDonald's, the investigation found.

In response to the investigation, all the companies said they are committed to tackling deforestation linked to supply chains.

Research by consultancy Aidenvironment found that on land used or owned by nine of Cargill's suppliers of soya in the Cerrado, there has been 800 square kilometres of deforestation and more than 12,000 fires recorded since 2015.

The Cerrado is a huge area to the south of the Amazon, made up of trees, shrubs and plains that store large amounts carbon dioxide, and is home to indigenous communities and a wide array of wildlife.

But it is being cleared for agricultural development for soya production, most of which is used in animal feed.

The investigation tracked a shipment of soya beans from the Cerrado's Matopiba region, which includes a heavily deforested area, to Cargill's soya plant in Liverpool, on to its feed mills in Hereford and Banbury, and to chicken operations it runs under the banner Avara with a British company.

The findings come as the Government is proposing new legislation that will make it illegal for British companies to import food and feed linked to illegal destruction in the country it has come from.

But environmentalists warn local laws in the Cerrado permit significant deforestation.

Anna Jones, head of forests at Greenpeace UK, said: "Industrial meat is the biggest driver of deforestation globally and reducing demand for industrial meat is the only way for retailers to actually achieve their promised deforestation-free supply chains."

She called for companies to replace at least half the meat and dairy they sell with plant-based alternatives.

She said legislation is important but the current proposal from the Government is "full of loopholes".

She added: "Stopping deforestation and reducing factory farming have been identified as crucial ways to protect ourselves from future pandemics.

"Companies have a moral obligation to stop selling us products that wreak havoc on forests, on unique wildlife, on indigenous peoples and on the health of our planet."

Cargill said it is continuing to build towards a deforestation-free soya supply chain and it estimates 95.68% of its soya in Brazil in 2018-2019 was deforestation and conversion free.

A spokesperson for the company also said it is increasing its sustainable certification programme for soya in Brazil, and added: "Cargill does not and will not supply soy from farmers who clear land in protected areas.

"Deforestation in that biome is, in most cases, a criminal act by Brazilian law. It must be treated that way."

An Asda spokesperson said: "We understand the importance of sustainable soy to our customers and are committed to reducing food production linked to deforestation," adding it is working with suppliers to ensure that by 2025 all of its soya is physically certified as sustainable.

In a statement, the McDonald's Corporation said it has set a goal to eliminate deforestation from global supply chains by 2030, and is making "important progress" against 2020 goals to eliminate deforestation in supply chains for the raw materials it buys in the greatest volume, including soya.

Globally by the end of 2019, 71% of soya sourced for feed of chicken used in McDonald's products supported deforestation-free supply chains, the company said.

It said it recognises there is more to do, and added: "The underlying causes driving deforestation are complex and larger than any one company can address alone, which is why an effective approach will require strong collaboration between governments, civil society and the private sector."

A Tesco spokesperson said: "Setting fires to clear land for crops must stop. Working with our suppliers, we met the 2020 industry-wide target of certified 'zero net deforestation' for our own direct soy sourcing a year early.

"But there is more to do, and so we've set an additional industry-leading target for the soy we use in the UK to be from entire areas that are verified deforestation-free by 2025.

"We need our suppliers, industry, NGOs and governments to work with us to end deforestation and protect our natural environment."

Lidl GB said it is committed to sourcing sustainable and deforestation-free soya, and had been directly supporting soya farmers in Brazil to produce the crop sustainably since 2018.

"We are also committed to working with all of our British suppliers to transition to 100% physically traceable, sustainable, zero-deforestation soy throughout our supply chain by 2025," it added.

"In addition, we have actively supported calls to government for more ambitious requirements on businesses to address this issue, and believe a level playing field is needed to halt all forms of deforestation."

A Nando's spokesperson said its soya had been responsibly sourced since 2015 using certification schemes and it was involved in industry moves to tackle deforestation.

"We recognise that there is more work to do which is why we are also investing in research looking at more sustainable feed alternatives and look forward to being able to share the results as soon as possible," they said.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "We have introduced legislation that would make it a requirement for larger businesses to undertake due diligence on their supply chains where there is a risk they could be contributing to deforestation. This is just one piece of a much larger package of measures that we are putting in place to tackle deforestation."