Dairy Crest pleads guilty to more than 20 environmental charges

A factory in Cornwall that produces Cathedral City cheddar cheese polluted a local river multiple times, killing trout and salmon, and caused odour issues that have led to residents complaining of headaches, a court has heard.

Dairy Crest pleaded guilty to charges relating to pollution and odour incidents and permit breaches

Dairy Crest, which is now owned by Canadian firm Saputo Dairy, appeared at Truro Crown Court last week as part of a prosecution case brought by the Environment Agency (EA).

The company pleaded guilty in September to 21 charges, which include pollution and odour incidents and permit breaches that resulted in fish kills at its Davidstow Creamery site in Cornwall in 2016 and 2018. 

The firm will be sentenced in May. 

Eleven of the charges admitted by the firm relate to it breaching its environmental permits with discharges of waste into the River Inny between December 2015 and January 2021, the court heard.

One charge, for example, is for breaching sections 12(1)(b) and 38(1)(a) of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016 “by discharging poisonous, noxious and polluting matter, namely biological sludge from the treatment of creamery process effluent, from the Davidstow Creamery outfall into the River Inny, without being authorised by an environmental permit”.

Two offences relate to contravening permits on odour between June 2016 and June 2020, while another charge said the company allowed discharges on 16 August 2016 “to such an extent as to cause the waters to be poisonous or injurious to fish or the spawn of fish or food of fish’”.

Six charges will remain on file which the EA can pursue later if there is reoffending.

The EA issued Dairy Crest with an enforcement notice in 2018. At the time it had made eight environmental breaches, while the EA had received nearly 100 odour complaints and eight noise complaints from concerned members of the public.

In a statement, Dairy Crest offered its “sincere apologies to the EA and those members of the public who have been affected”. It added that it had undertaken “a significant amount of work to rectify the historic issues to which the prosecution relates”. 

The EA said it continues to regulate the firm at this site, “to secure a sustained improvement in permit compliance and environmental performance, to protect people and the environment”.