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Research by the charity revealed industrial farming produced the equivalent of 100 double-decker buses of animal waste per hour

Food and farming charity Sustain has launched a publicity campaign to ‘Save our Rivers’ after revealing research showing industrial livestock farming in the UK produced more than 50,000 tonnes of untreated excreta each day.

This was more than soils could absorb and the equivalent of 100 double-decker buses per hour, Sustain said, with much of the effluent then washed into the UK’s watercourses.

Industrial farms along the Wye Valley alone produce 2,500 tonnes of untreated excreta every day, Sustain added.

The impact of several major food businesses along the valley, including the likes of poultry giant Avara Foods and Happy egg Co owner Noble Foods, has come under increased scrutiny in recent years, with campaigners accusing food businesses of not doing enough to tackle pollution.

This toxic animal waste in turn produced 13,038 tonnes of nitrogen and 4,443 tonnes of phosphates every day in teh Wye Valley, Sustain said. Nitrogen causes algal blooms which absorb oxygen, making rivers unhabitable for wildlife.

Every region in the UK now had more nitrogen pollution than it could absorb, the charity added, particularly in those regions of England with high concentrations of industrialised indoor-reared livestock.

Rivers ‘unprotected’ from threat of farm pollution, claim campaigners

And in 42 areas in the UK, nitrogen pollution was so acute that councils were unable to approve any housing developments that may add more nitrogen to the environment, it said. However, in many places, industrial livestock units were still receiving planning approval and being built, Sustain claimed.

As a result, it is calling on councils “to introduce local planning regulations to require all livestock developments to prove that they are contributing to reversing, rather than exacerbating, pollution and biodiversity decline, and to tackle the climate emergency”.

The campaign is also demanding that national government reforms planning policy to put climate change, nature and biodiversity decline at the heart of considerations for all applications. This would mean the most polluting industries would be required to disclose the harm they cause at planning stage and could be rejected where there was clear evidence of damage.

“Our rivers are on the brink of ecological collapse. People are waking up to the fact that rivers are the lifeblood of our country, and a cornerstone of our economy, but we can’t forget that the big industrial livestock farms are a big factor in this disaster. Local councils have power,” said Ruth Westcott, climate and nature emergency co-ordinator at Sustain.

“They can show they are serious about cleaning up our rivers by adopting planning policy to support nature-friendly farming rather than more intensive livestock units.”