Cathedral City cheddar: Royal cheese maker admits dumping poisonous waste

The Queen’s cheddar cheese supplier has admitted more than 20 river pollution offences, including an illegal discharge of poisonous waste that killed hundreds of fish.

Rhys Blakely 

The breaches occurred over several years at the Davidstow Creamery in Cornwall, which is owned by Saputo Dairy UK and produces Cathedral City cheddar. It is the only cheddar maker to hold a royal warrant.

The company, previously known as Dairy Crest, has admitted 21 environmental offences at the site, said to be the biggest cheddar factory in the world. They led to fish being killed in the River Inny in 2016 and 2018; each offence could result in an unlimited fine at crown court.

In the summer of 2018 hundreds of dead fish were found in the river, prompting the Environment Agency to designate a “major category 1” incident — the most serious. The bed of the river was found to be smothered in sludge that “appeared brown on the surface but was jet black in colour underneath”.

Martin Harmer, chairman of the Launceston Anglers’ Association, which helped to bring the pollution to light, said that the Environment Agency had been slow to take steps to protect the ecosystem. “As anglers we have been all too aware of problems on the River Inny caused by this site. Chronic and acute pollutions on the Inny have been going on for years,” he said.

“Saputo says it is committed to improvement at the Davidstow site but that will remain to be seen. We hope that this, along with the promise by the regulator of a permit review, will be a turning point for the river and give its ecology a chance to recover.”

The offences included “discharging poisonous, noxious and polluting matter, namely biological sludge” into the river. The anglers’ association found high levels of phosphate pollution and witnessed fish kills first-hand.

The charity Fish Legal investigated, and said it had found “shocking levels of environmental permit breaches”. Residents had complained of a “pungent fishy stink” wafting from the creamery, which had made people nauseous and kept them awake at night.

Saputo is expected to be sentenced at Truro crown court in May.

Last year it apologised to the Environment Agency and the public.

An Environment Agency spokesman said: “We are pleased to see that courts are imposing higher fines but we would like to see them grow higher still. We also want to see the criminal courts applying penalties consistently and proportionately, and would welcome the most serious breaches by very large companies attracting sanctions based on a percentage of turnover.”