CAMPAIGNERS are calling on Avara Foods to address the "severe deterioration" of the river Wye which they say is caused by phosphates from poultry farms.

Campaign group River Action has called on two of the UK’s leading agricultural processing companies, Avara Foods and Happy Egg producer Noble Foods, to "address the severe recent ecological deterioration of the river Wye and its wider catchment".

It said it was "being largely caused by phosphate run-off from their intensive poultry production supply chains".

River Action said that each year, thousands of tons of chicken manure is spread across land within the catchment, while many of the region’s free range egg farms have open drains which run directly into watercourses.

Water quality monitoring that has been carried out by environmental groups and non-governmental organisations across the river Wye catchment revealed "massively excessive phosphate levels across the river system", campaigners said.

They said this was widely believed to be a direct result of intensive agricultural practices.

According to research from Natural Resources Wales, more than 60 per cent of the river Wye catchment failed to meet pollution targets, with phosphate levels leading to "algal blooms" which suffocate river life.

Research in Ross-on-Wye by anglers found similar results.

River Action has called on Noble Foods and Avara, as well as supermarket Tesco, to ask what was being done to tackle the pollution issues.

River Action founder and chairman Charles Watson said: “If the River Wye is going to stand a chance of ecological survival it is simply essential that immediate plans are implemented to remove from the river catchment the huge quantities of phosphate-rich chicken manure produced by Avara’s supply chain.

"At the same time we await Tesco’s response to our enquiries with great interest.

"As a world class food retailer committed to the highest environmental standards of supply chain compliance, supplying own-branded products that have been procured from such an environmentally dirty production process is not sustainable”.

Avara Foods, which has a factory in Hereford, said it remained committed to improving its environmental profile.

"We recognise that, as a large agricultural presence in the river Wye catchment, we have an environmental responsibility to ensure our activities have minimal impact," a spokesperson said.

"We’re already working closely with local authorities and environmental groups to manage our impact and have been undertaking our own scientific investigations to evaluate how we can reduce this even further.

"Broiler rearing has little direct impact on rivers as there’s no run off from operations, but we’re conscious of the fact muck spreading can have an adverse effect on waterways and carefully monitor our agricultural partners’ use of chicken waste as fertilizer.

"We’re confident solutions can be found, but they’ll be collaborative efforts encompassing the poultry industry, farmers, councils, regulators and waterways management.

"The river Wye’s catchment is huge, spanning four counties and two countries – this means a huge number of factors affect its overall picture and focusing solely one aspect of agricultural practice in isolation is misleading.

"We remain fully committed to continually improving our environmental profile in all aspects of our work, and this is no exception."

Tesco, which sells chickens processed by Avara Foods, added: “We require all of our suppliers to adhere to stringent environmental standards and we regularly inspect our supplier sites to ensure the appropriate environmental measures are in place.

“We take the points raised by River Action very seriously and will be considering them in detail alongside our suppliers.”

Noble Foods said: “We firmly believe that protecting the environment is extremely important.

"Although we represent a small, single digit percentage of the poultry flock in the area, we take our responsibility very seriously and have been working on thorough risk assessments for the small number of farms we have in the region.

“It is our objective to mitigate risk and protect the surrounding waterways where farms are located and we are actively working with industry experts, the Wye & Usk Foundation and the BEIC to share best practice to ensure the widest positive impact.

"There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach and we believe we have an important role to play in facilitating the right focus from other agricultural businesses also working in the region.”