A FOOD giant which has been linked to River Wye pollution faced similar claims in US legal cases stretching back 20 years, according to a national newspaper.

An Observer investigation found that US food business Cargill, which jointly owns large-scale poultry producer Avara Foods based in Hereford, was sued twice in America over claims of “pollution of water courses from chicken farms in its supply chain”.

One case is still ongoing, while another brought by the city of Tulsa for the alleged manure polution of two lakes in 2001, saw Cargill and five other firms agree to pay a combined $7.5m with no admission of liability.

In 2005, the farming supply chains of Cargill and other poultry producers were also accused by Oklahoma of polluting the Illinois River, a tributary of the Arkansas, a case which is still ongoing and which they also deny liability for.

The Observer reported that Drew Edmondson, former Oklahoma state attorney general, who filed the lawsuit, said: “Their biggest defence was that there were other sources of phosphorus.

“They talked about cows. They talked about runoff from parking lots. Our experts said: ‘Yes, that’s true – but overwhelmingly it’s the poultry waste that’s causing this.’”

Chicken manure from intensive poultry farms that supply the likes of Avara has been blamed by environmental campaigners for phosphate pollution is causing algal blooms and destroying the river’s eco-system.

Dr Tom Tibbits, chair of the Friends of the Upper Wye, said of the US cases: “To see history repeating like this is heartbreaking.

“Where’s the corporate responsibility? They had the knowledge but didn’t clean up their act.”

The Observer also reported that Helen Hamilton, a planning consultant who has worked with environmental groups, said she warned planning officials several years ago about the legal actions in Oklahoma.

“They sent us away with a flea in our ear. The River Wye is now possibly beyond redemption,” she said.

Avara is the third largest poultry producer in the UK and supplies the likes of Tesco, Asda and McDonald’s.

According to the Observer, Cargill bought a poultry processing plant in Hereford more than 40 years ago, and announced a £35m investment there to increase production in 2013, combining its fresh chicken operation in the UK with poultry business Faccenda Foods to form Avara five years later.

New intensive poultry units – some housing more than 40,000 chickens – have sprung up upriver in Herefordshire and Powys to supply the demand, where now some 20 million birds are farmed.

Avara said last year: “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.

“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.”

Avara is also working with ST Energy to build anaerobic digestion (AD) plant to process manure at a farm near Leominster, which would be capable of providing gas for 6,000 homes.

While Cargill did not respond to the Obsever’s request for a comment, the Environment Agency said: “The River Wye is iconic. The Environment Agency and its partners are working through a nutrient management board to find solutions to tackle phosphate levels.

“We recently secured additional funding to increase monitoring activity.”