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Group makes disturbing discovery while investigating UK farms: 'There has been scandalous neglect'

It's a "clear breach of the regulations."

It's a "clear breach of the regulations."

Photo Credit: iStock

Allegations of neglect are swirling around the UK's Environment Agency after evidence surfaced that chicken excrement from poultry farms is polluting the iconic River Wye.

The news has sparked concerns about the environmental toll of intensive animal agriculture and the need for stronger protection of our waterways.

What happened?

Conservation charity River Action found that 19 out of 47 poultry sites visited in the River Wye catchment had drains running directly from chicken sheds to nearby watercourses.

"A large number of intensive egg production farms have been allowing the excrement of hundreds of thousands of chickens to run off, without any proper mitigation, straight into the river system," River Action chair Charles Watson told the Guardian, calling it a "clear breach of the regulations" and "scandalous neglect."

Why is river pollution concerning?

When phosphorus-rich chicken waste enters rivers, it can disrupt aquatic ecosystems. Algal blooms fed by the excess nutrients deplete the water's oxygen, suffocating fish and other river creatures.

The River Wye's woes are tied to the recent boom in intensive poultry farming in its catchment area, with hundreds of new production units approved in the past two decades. The river's health has declined so much that its condition was officially downgraded last May, with campaigners warning its ecosystem has been "devastated" by poultry pollution.

As the Wye and Usk Foundation noted in an email to environment officials, drainage from the farms poses "a pollution risk and should not be directed to watercourses," yet it's a "very common" issue they've "found very difficult to address." It underscores how our growing appetite for cheap meat and eggs can put immense strain on the natural systems we depend on.

What's being done to help the Wye?

The Wye and Usk Foundation has been visiting poultry farms and collaborating with farmers to reduce pollution and better manage runoff. Some egg suppliers are also investing in solutions — fresh food supplier Noble Foods is helping to fund nature-based projects like wetland pools to filter waste on farms it works with.

Meanwhile, River Action is taking the Environment Agency to court, seeking to compel them to crack down on agricultural polluters. The agency claims it carried out nearly 500 farm inspections in the Wye catchment from April to December 2023.

As individuals, we can vote with our wallets by looking for eggs and poultry from truly sustainable farms. Wasting less food also helps curb the pressure to produce in bulk at the environment's expense.

Together, we can push for farming that works with nature, not against it, to keep our rivers healthy and thriving.

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