New footage inside the UK’s largest duck producer, Gressingham Duck, may well make consumers think twice however about the purchases they make in the lead up to Christmas.
With the ‘Rule of 6’ potentially being in place at Christmas still, it has been reported that people will demand smaller birds on the table [1, 2]. Duck and geese sales are set to soar. New footage inside the UK’s largest duck producer, Gressingham Duck, may well make consumers think twice however about the purchases they make in the lead up to Christmas. Gressingham Duck kills around 8 million ducks a year [3] which is the equivalent of over 150,000 a week, and accounts for over half the farmed ducks [4], kills around 150,000 ducks a week and supplies Red Tractor Assured duck [5] to Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Tesco, Co-Op, ASDA and Morrisons [6].

VIDEO: https://vimeo.com/476066632 (Password: GressinghamDuck2020)
IMAGES: https://www.flickr.com/photos/129208916@N02/albums (animaljustice.project@yahoo.com. Password: Zebrafish4!)

As part of its campaign to end duck farming [7], pressure group Animal Justice Project has launched new undercover footage taken inside Gressingham Duck slaughterhouse in Redgrave, Suffolk – the largest duck slaughterhouse in the UK and one of just a handful of facilities killing these birds [8] – to show the reality for the 14 million ducks killed each year for supermarket shelves, and the fate of many birds killed for Christmas.

Investigators carried out the field work through legal means. Strict biosecurity was adhered to. GPS, maps and atomic clock showing time and location are available.

The footage reveals breaches in guidelines set out by the UK government to ensure adherence with EU regulation 1099/2099 on the protection of animals at the time of killing and the UK's Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (WATOK) regulations inside this slaughterhouse, and follow on from the issuing of major non-compliance notices relating to animal welfare at the same slaughterhouse in 2018 by Food Standards Agency (FSA) [9]. Animal Justice Project claims that mandatory CCTV inside UK slaughterhouses [10] is failing to prevent animal cruelty and suffering. FSA has stated that ‘immediate and robust enforcement action will be taken’ if issues relating to animal welfare are found and Animal Justice Project is demanding action by FSA, Red Tractor and Gressingham Duck which also state that animal welfare is an ‘absolute priority’ [11].


The disturbing footage [12] reveals ducks being grabbed roughly by workers from crates, hung upside down, and sent along a shackle line into an electrical waterbath, as well as a staggering fifteen breaches of EU, UK government and Red Tractor guidelines [13] over the course of just one day (8am to 9pm). Animal Justice Project claims that FSA audits and CCTV are failing animals, and Red Tractor is unethically stamping its approval on practices condemned by the government’s own advisory body on animal welfare. Live shackling has long been condemned by Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC). In 2009, the council stated they would welcome the end of pre-shackle slaughter inversion and live shackling [14], that the practice ‘may cause considerable pain and distress’, and that pre-slaughter inversion and shackling for poultry should be phased out. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has also urged in a scientific opinion requested by the European Commission that live shackling and waterbath electrical stunning – two methods used by Gressingham Duck and endorsed by Red Tractor – be replaced ‘as soon as possible to spare birds from severe welfare consequences such as pain and fear’ [15].


“Both practical experience and scientific evidence show that current systems of inversion and live shackling raise significant welfare concerns. Inversion is unnatural and stressful and may elicit fear and an escape response, such as wing flapping” [16]

“Shackling is likely to be very painful. Pain is caused by the compression of the periosteum by the shackle and the variations in leg size that are not compensated for by shackle design, both of which are compounded by any bone fractures or joint dislocation” [16]

The electrical waterbath, also used by Gressingham Duck to stun ducks before they have their throats cut, is another practice condemned due to the high likelihood that birds will receive pre-stun shocks or be inadequately stunned (for example due to ‘swan-necking’, meaning the birds curl their heads up so their chests or wings hit the electrical water first) [15]. Humane Slaughter Association states ‘it may be difficult to achieve complete submersion of the heads of waterfowl (the heads appear to involuntarily float at the water’s surface)’ [17].

KEY FINDINGS

- Shackling and involuntary inversion appeared to cause the ducks significant distress.

- Workers argued and shouted at each other, even physically assaulted each other, whilst roughly shackling distressed and panicked birds. In one upsetting scene, workers shouted at length, waved their arms, ignored hanging birds, and clapped loudly as they grabbed and shackled the ducks. They became increasingly aggressive – and this transferred to how brutally the ducks were handled.

- Workers were filmed using excessive force when loading the ducks into the shackles, and birds were left hanging for two periods, over 14 minutes and almost 12 minutes – well over the maximum time of 2 minutes specified in both UK and EU legislation [18, 19]. This breach is likely to have serious welfare consequences for the terrified, hanging ducks. After one of these periods, workers started to unshackle some hanging ducks, however reaching ducks hanging on the edge of the waterbath would have been impossible. This is a breach of guidelines.

- Workers were caught on camera brutalising and rough-handling ducks, ramming them

with force into the shackles, which is likely to cause extra pain and injury to their delicate legs. Ducks were also filmed being grabbed and dragged by their heads/necks, one leg and wings across crates. Another breach of guidelines.

- Ducks arrived dead in crates and one bird was covered in blood. Dead ducks were tossed into a chute without having their vital signs checked by workers, others were shot with a captive bolt gun and shackled to go into the food chain. It is likely ducks died or became crushed on the lorry from farm to slaughterhouse.

- Workers used live ducks to hit torn-off feet from the shackles.

- Ducks arrived in crates filthy and with huge sores, which coincides with conditions Animal Justice Project filmed on Gressingham Duck farms in late 2019.

- Throughout the day, ducks in crates were missed by workers and went down in between rollers in machinery. Some jumped onto the floor and were left by workers.

- The Gressingham Duck shackle line has two sharp bends and a drop, which, according to the EFSA, can cause ‘irregular movements that can increase the force the shackles exert on the legs of the animals. The irregular movements and increased force on the legs can lead to painful compression and a fear response’ [15].

- Ducks were shackled above a metal bar, which they hit repeatedly. Guidelines specify that birds are not meant to touch other objects.

Gressingham Duck is no stranger to controversy. In 2017 they had a major bird flu outreach, and killed 55,000 ducks [20]. In December 2019, Animal Justice Project released a shocking undercover investigation at one of their farms in Norfolk, released in the Mail Online [21] and the Independent [22] revealing workers breaking necks of ducks and throwing their twitching bodies back into the flock of running ducks; constant shed lighting for two days; lame ducks and ducks in apparent distress; ducks ‘back-pedalling’ across the shed floors (a result of sodden floor and leg problems due to a fast growth rate); a complete lack of enrichment; workers grabbing ducks by their necks (a method opposed by the RSPCA); and no open water, so the birds could only dip their heads into drinkers [7].


The vast majority of the millions of ducks and geese farmed in the UK each year are reared in sheds with no access to water, aside from drinkers. Animal Justice Project says that this latest investigation at Gressingham Duck slaughterhouse, and the previous footage revealing ducks have no access to any meaningful water inside Gressingham Duck sheds, shows that, despite the company’s own welfare claims, and those of Red Tractor [23], both are actively causing the torture and suffering of millions of ducks every year, and using or stamping their approval on practices well-known to be inhumane.

Animal Justice Project, along with over 6,000 people who signed their petition [24] and with celebrity support by Harry Potter star, Evanna Lynch [25], are advocating an end to duck farming due to the innate cruelty of this industry and urging consumers to keep animals off their plates entirely this Christmas and choose plant-based alternatives instead.


Veterinarian and Professor of Animal Welfare and Ethics, Prof Andrew Knight, states: “Shackling involves hanging birds from their legs, upside down. This is an unnatural position, and exerts considerable force on the bones and soft tissues of the legs and feet. Birds ready for slaughter are heavy – particularly ducks. This can and does result in fractures and other injuries, and is extremely stressful. It is an inhumane way to treat birds of any species. No organisation should be certifying practices that are inhumane.”

Claire Palmer, Animal Justice Project spokesperson, states: “Gressingham Duck, a company with a £120m turnover, has been exposed once again for failing to provide ducks anything other than pain and misery. Since 2017, this company has had a bird flu outbreak, been caught out on major welfare breaches inside its slaughterhouse, had our cameras capture abuse on their farms, and now this. It is a catalogue of disaster. Gressingham is utilising practices well known to be inhumane, even by the government’s own animal welfare council. The irony is that the most water that Gressingham ducks will ever experience is when they hit the electric waterbath inside this slaughterhouse. Subjected to terrifying and brutal handling by workers who scream at each other, and shackling upside down whilst fully conscious, follows a dismal life for ducks inside filthy, barren sheds. This is the tragic reality of duck farming and slaughter in the UK, but it is not just ducks who suffer – intensive animal farming centres on exploitation for profit, not the rights of animals. CCTV will not prevent suffering, as our own cameras have shown, because it is innate in this industry. Consumers need to know that their choices in the run-up to Christmas and beyond can have a huge impact on other animals’ lives. We urge them to have a truly compassionate Christmas and make that all-important switch to the vast array of plant-based foods now widely available on the highstreet.”



CONTACT

Claire Palmer, MSc Zoology
Spokesperson
Animal Justice Project
E:
claire@animaljusticeproject.com
T: +44 (0) 7851 497 827

REFERENCES

[1] www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8814145/UK-turkey-farmer-rearing-SMALLER-birds-Christmas-Rule-Six.html

[2] www.thegrocer.co.uk/eggs-and-poultry/gressingham-looks-to-cash-in-on-smaller-christmas-gatherings-with-geese/649185.article

[3] www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-suffolk-21382015

[4] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/904024/AUK_2019_27July2020.pdf

[5] www.gressinghamduck.co.uk/story/

[6] www.gressinghamduck.co.uk/stockists

[7] www.thefoultruth.org/gressinghamducks

[8] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/778588/slaughter-method-survey-2018.pdf

[9] www.eadt.co.uk/news/eye-poultry-diaper-poultry-and-gressingham-foods-breach-welfare-standards-1-5820394

[10] www.gov.uk/government/news/cctv-becomes-mandatory-in-all-abattoirs-in-england

[11] www.gressinghamduck.co.uk/story

[12] VIDEO: https://vimeo.com/476066632 (Password: GressinghamDuck2020)

[13] Breaches of Government Guidelines which are set to enable implementation of Council Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 and The Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing

(England) Regulations 2015. It is an offence if Schedules in WATOK are broken.


- You must position shackle lines so that you can reach the whole shackle line easily and you can take an animal off it at any time (www.gov.uk/guidance/white-meat-slaughterhouses-unloading-handling-and-holding-restraining-stunning-killing and European Council (EC) Regulation No. 1099/2009)

- When the birds are on the shackle line they must not touch any objects or each other, even when their wings are stretched out (www.gov.uk/guidance/white-meat-slaughterhouses-unloading-handling-and-holding-restraining-stunning-killing and European Council (EC) Regulation No. 1099/2009)

- When the birds are on the shackle line they must not be relaxed (www.gov.uk/guidance/white-meat-slaughterhouses-unloading-handling-and-holding-restraining-stunning-killing)


- When the birds are on the shackle line they must not not be disturbed (www.gov.uk/guidance/white-meat-slaughterhouses-unloading-handling-and-holding-restraining-stunning-killing and European Council (EC) Regulation No. 1099/2009)

- You must only hang conscious birds on a shackle line for a maximum of 2 minutes (www.gov.uk/guidance/white-meat-slaughterhouses-unloading-handling-and-holding-restraining-stunning-killing and European Council (EC) Regulation No. 1099/2009)

- Between stunning (when the captive bolt was used on impaired ducks) and killing, you must check animals for signs of consciousness (www.gov.uk/guidance/white-meat-slaughterhouses-unloading-handling-and-holding-restraining-stunning-killing)

- You must be able to get to the waterbath to kill any animals that have been stunned but stay in the waterbath because of a breakdown or a delay in the line (www.gov.uk/guidance/white-meat-slaughterhouses-unloading-handling-and-holding-restraining-stunning-killing and European Council (EC) Regulation No. 1099/2009)

- You must kill an animal as soon as possible if it has an injury or a disease that causes it severe pain or distress (www.gov.uk/guidance/white-meat-slaughterhouses-unloading-handling-and-holding-restraining-stunning-killing)

- You must not handle any animal in a way that causes it pain or suffering. You must not drag an animal by the head, ears, tail or handle them in a way that would cause pain or suffering (www.gov.uk/guidance/white-meat-slaughterhouses-unloading-handling-and-holding-restraining-stunning-killing and European Council (EC) Regulation No. 1099/2009)

- You must shackle both legs (www.gov.uk/guidance/white-meat-slaughterhouses-unloading-handling-and-holding-restraining-stunning-killing and European Council (EC) Regulation No. 1099/2009)

- The shackles must be wet (www.gov.uk/guidance/white-meat-slaughterhouses-unloading-handling-and-holding-restraining-stunning-killing and European Council (EC) Regulation No. 1099/2009)

Breaches in Red Tractor Meat Processing Scheme (https://assurance.redtractor.org.uk/contentfiles/Farmers-6942.pdf?_=637317265362715172)

- Birds must not be subjected to avoidable, excessive or sudden noises (PW.c.1)

- Staff handling birds must be trained and competent (PW.h)

- Systems must be in place to minimise the risk of birds escaping (PW.j)

- Birds must be handled appropriately at electrical stunning and killing points (PW.k)

[14] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/325045/FAWC_report_on_the_welfare_of_farmed_animals_at_slaughter_or_killing_part_two_white_meat_species.pdf

[15] https://efsa.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.2903/j.efsa.2019.5849

[16] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/324999/FAWC_advice_on_LINCO_gas_stunning_system_for_poultry.pdf

[17] www.hsa.org.uk/downloads/hsagn7electricalwaterbathpoultry1.pdf

[18] www.gov.uk/government/collections/welfare-of-animals-at-the-time-of-killing

[19] https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=CELEX:32009R1099&from=EN

[20] www.dissmercury.co.uk/news/cull-of-55-000-ducks-gets-underway-after-bird-flu-discovery-1-4916440

[21] www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7797511/Worker-Britains-biggest-duck-meat-farm-SNAPS-birds-necks-secret-film.html

[22] www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/duck-sainsbury-waitrose-tesco-asda-morrisons-cruelty-gressingham-foods-a9248956.html

[23] https://assurance.redtractor.org.uk/contentfiles/Farmers-6922.pdf?_=637311857116592883

[24] www.dissmercury.co.uk/news/protest-at-gressingham-foods-duck-farm-redgrave-1-6783286

[25] www.edp24.co.uk/news/crime/gressingham-duck-farm-investigation-reveals-shocking-conditions-1-6428006

 


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