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A pollution expert from the UK government’s environment watchdog has suggested that UK farmers may have to reduce the number of animals they keep because of the critical state of some river catchments, such as the River Wye, and the Somerset Levels.

Tim Bailey, expert of the Environment Agency speaking independently to the Guardian, said:  “Many catchments are already at or beyond the capacity of the environment to cope, and more will follow unless we take unparalleled action… In some instances, it will entail the reduction and restriction of livestock production or the treatment and export of organic manures. There are catchments like the River Wye where we need to export to other catchments, but transferring the problem will eventually risk creating a UK-wide pollution problem.” 

According to UK government data, farming is the most significant source of water pollution and ammonia emissions into the atmosphere in the UK, accounting for 25% of phosphate, 50% of nitrate and 75% of sediment loadings in the water environment.

Avara Foods, one of the UK’s biggest chicken producers supplying to major supermarkets, has already admitted that chicken waste from its farms has polluted the waterway.

This is not unique to the UK. For every intensive animal farm in existence anywhere, there is a serious pollution problem caused by manure and other waste products. New Zealand, once known for its beautiful green landscapes and transparent rivers, is now losing them to the effects of the massive dairy industry, as the recent documentary Milked has exposed. In it, we learnt that the top five New Zealand meat and dairy companies now produce more emissions than the whole of the United Kingdom and its 66 million citizens. That’s also more pollution than the oil and gas companies ExxonMobil, Shell and BP pollute. Unless something is done to stop animal agriculture from doing the same to our waters wherever we live, we will keep losing Nature one river at a time.