Planning approvals for new poultry units could be suspended in one Welsh county amid concern over links to rising river nutrient levels.
Powys has a high concentration of intensive poultry farms and that number has been growing rapidly.
It is estimated that there are now 8.5 million head of poultry on farms in Powys, the majority on 100 large-scale units.
In the three years to April 2020, Powys County Council approved 75 planning applications for intensive units – in contrast, there were 13 approvals across the rest of Wales.
Natural Resources Wales (NRW) is now reviewing river nutrient levels and, if these are shown to be at an unacceptable level, the Welsh government said a moratorium on new poultry farms and expansion in existing units might be considered.
The Wales Environment Link (WEL), a network of environmental, countryside and heritage non-governmental organisations, is concerned about the impact intensive poultry production is having on watercourses, the River Wye in particular.
WEL wants a halt on future developments until research has been undertaken on the cumulative environmental impacts of the units currently operating.
It also wants to see evidence that negative impacts have been reduced and that effective measures are in place to manage these impacts, through changes to the planning system and permitting thresholds.
A Welsh government spokesman said that if the NRW review provides sufficient evidence of unacceptable nutrient levels in Welsh rivers, it would be in a position to consider a moratorium.
But no decision would be made until that review has ended.
“We are working with stakeholders to develop updated national guidance to support authorities in fulfilling their planning responsibilities,’’ said a spokesperson.
A draft set of new agricultural pollution regulations is expected to be published in spring 2021.
Uncertainty over farming subsidies post-Brexit and increased demand for free range eggs and chicken have seen farmers diversify into this sector.
One of the applications currently being considered by Powys County Council is for two poultry buildings at Llanshay Farm, Knighton.
Protestors recently held a demonstration in the town to voice their concern.
The planning system for building poultry houses is heavily regulated and poultry houses are regularly inspected by government agencies and assurance bodies.
NFU Cymru said farmers in this and other sectors adhered to strict animal health and welfare, environmental and food safety standards. “Welsh farmers take their environmental responsibilities very seriously,’’ said a spokesperson.