One of the world’s largest food and farming companies is being roped into a legal bid to compensate thousands of people for pollution in the river Wye and its tributaries.

A civil claim launched in March by law firm Leigh Day named local poultry supplier Avara Foods as a defendant. But the firm now claims that Avara’s joint parent company Cargill, which last year had a global turnover of $177 billion, should also be held accountable for the pollution given its role in the area’s intensive chicken farming.

The legal firm says Cargill imports and processes soy beans that are then mixed to create “phosphorus-rich” chicken feed for local chicken farms contracted to Avara.


Excess phosphorus from the resulting chicken manure, when spread on fields as fertiliser, can then leach into soil and watercourses, its legal claim will allege.

Last year a US court found that Cargill “knew or should have known” that using poultry manure in this way posed a risk to the Illinois river, which like the Wye suffers from the consequences of high phosphorus levels.

Leigh Day will now argue that Avara, formed only in 2018, should have known of the likelihood of similar environmental consequences here.


Herefordshire is thought to house up to 23 million chickens at any one time, with Avara believed to be responsible for four in five birds reared in the river catchment.

The law firm is currently adding claimants to the legal claim, which it intends to file at the High Court later this year.

Leigh Day partner Oliver Holland, who is leading the claim, said: “Cargill are simply replicating the same environmental damage in the UK that they have been liable for in the US, and should be held equally responsible.”

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Avara has said that the legal move “ignores the long-standing use of phosphate-rich fertiliser by arable farms, as well as the clear scientific data showing the issue of excess phosphorus considerably predates the growth of poultry farms in the Wye catchment”.

“We are confident that there is no case to defend, but if forced to do so, we would pursue Leigh Day to recover any costs we incur,” Avara’s spokesperson said.

Cargill has been approached for comment.