River Wye pollution legal claim extended to include Cargill Plc

A million pound legal claim potentially worth hundreds of millions to compensate thousands of people for pollution in the River Wye and its tributaries has been extended to include US multi national food producer Cargill Plc.

Cargill subsidiary Avara Foods Ltd was first to be named as a defendant in the civil claim launched in March 2024 by law firm Leigh Day.

Now Leigh Day says there is mounting evidence that Avara’s parent company Cargill plc should also be held accountable for pollution to the River Wye catchment area allegedly caused by industrial scale chicken farming.

The legal claim it is building against Avara will now also be brought against Cargill plc, alleging its place in the Avara food chain makes it responsible for excess phosphorous that is the main cause of pollution in the Wye and its tributaries.

Cargill plc imports soy beans to the UK to be processed at its own Liverpool Soy Crush and Refinery, believed to be the major supplier of reduced soy which is mixed with wheat and other ingredients at feed mills in Hereford to create phosphorous-rich chicken feed for farms contracted by Avara to rear and supply the millions of chickens it sells to UK supermarkets.

It is excess phosphorous in chicken manure which leaches into the soil and into water courses, causing pollution, the legal claim will allege.

As Avara claims its broiler hen feed includes 25 per cent soy, Leigh Day believes the Cargill-owned export could make up as much as 375 tonnes per day of the phosphorous-rich feed processed in Hereford mills for consumption by Avara contract chicken suppliers. Soy Bean Meal (like other seeds used to create animal feed) is rich in phytic acid (or phytate), a major storage form of phosphorus, which poultry are unable to digest and so excrete.

Researchers estimate chicken farms in Herefordshire house up to 23 million chickens at any one time. Avara is reportedly responsible for 80 per cent of the birds reared in the Wye catchment area.

Cargill Plc has faced similar claims in the US as a result of polluting the Illinois River due to the same practice of high intensive poultry farming.

In 2023, the Oklahoma Court ruled that Cargill Inc polluted the Illinois River by spreading chicken manure on land so that it then leached into the river’s watercourse. The judge in that case found that Cargill knew or should have known that using poultry waste as fertiliser posed a risk to waterways, and the UK claimants will similarly allege that Cargill Plc and Avara Foods knew that the outcome of intensive poultry farming would cause the pollution of the River Wye but continued with their operations anyway.

Leigh Day will argue that Avara Foods began operations in the Wye in 2018, 30 years after the Cargill group knew the environmental ramifications of intensive poultry rearing.

The legal claim will say that due to the much smaller watershed of the River Wye, the concentration of birds per square metre of the River Wye is approximately 5.56 birds per square metre of land draining into the River Wye, in comparison to only approximately 0.87 birds per square metre in the River Illinois. When the much smaller volume of the River Wye is taken into account, the actions of Avara Foods in the River Wye catchment are believed to be far worse than those for which their parent company was found liable in the US in 2023.

Avara Foods says it is committed to playing its part in the restoration of the River Wye “by taking accountability for the poultry manure that originates from it supply chain… but reversing the decline of the river is beyond the means of any single organisation”.

It also argues that pollution in the Wye is down to sewage overflows. Leigh Day maintains that the impact of industrial chicken farming on the Wye catchment area is the indisputable cause of the degradation of the River Wye and its tributaries.

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

The claim is being led by Leigh Day partner Oliver Holland, who said, “We intend to include Cargill plc, the parent company of Avara Foods, in this legal action because we believe they should also bear responsibility for bringing phosphorus rich soy into the UK and into the Wye Catchment area. They have done this despite knowing that such action will cause environmental devastation to the River Wye having been found liable for the same practice in the US courts – instead of learning from their past mistakes they 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 for their actions as Avara.”


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