Nationwide (March 23, 2022) — Sky-reaching billboards have gone up in five cities across Britain - Derby, Nottingham, Reading, Wolverhampton and Birmingham.

Nationwide (March 23, 2022) Sky-reaching billboards have gone up in five cities across Britain - Derby, Nottingham, Reading, Wolverhampton and Birmingham [1] expected to reach almost 103,000 people with the message that duck farming is at odds with the Animal Welfare Act (2006) [2]. It is also, according to pressure group Animal Justice Project, in violation of one of the Five Freedoms (specifically ‘Freedom to express normal behaviour’) [3] and The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations (2007) [4] regarding consideration to the adaptation and ethological needs of ducks. 

IMAGES: (Birmingham), (Derby), (Nottingham), (Reading) and (Wolverhampton)

Animal Justice Project, as part of its ‘Down with Duck Farming’ campaign [5] is calling on the UK government to ban the commercial duck farming industry.

The campaign, which is backed by celebrities Evanna Lynch from Harry Potter and Peter Egan from Downtown Abbey, follows a Parliamentary Question tabled by Labour MP Kerry McCarthy earlier this month to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on whether its policy is that farmed ducks should have access to an open body of water [6]. The Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) replied on one hand that they “recognise the welfare benefit of providing open water for ducks”, on farms the provision of open bathing water for ducks is a “difficult issue, as a balance needs to be struck between the welfare needs of the birds and the risks to duck health, hygiene and food safety”. The RSPCA has shown, however, that providing open water to commercially farmed ducks would be commercially viable [7].

A wealth of scientific evidence reveals that open water is not just a ‘welfare benefit’, but vital for duck well-being [eg 7 - 10] - access to open water is essential for improving and maintaining health, which has been shown to improve as the level of body access to water increases, and ducks, being waterfowl, demonstrate an innate need for open water.

Although there is no specific or explicit legal requirement to provide ducks with access to open water, it could be argued that there are already legal provisions (in the Animal Welfare Act (2006) and The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations, 2007) that could be enforced to require ducks to be provided with bathing water.

Animal Justice Project claim the fact that 11 million ducks (and geese) are slaughtered in the UK [11], and the vast majority are reared in industrial sheds with tens of thousands of others and no access to bathing water reveals a failure in DEFRA, who’s Code of Recommendations simply require farmers to provide fresh drinking water, and a lack of enforcement to protect animals.

“Sadly, animal welfare law is often predicated on the commercial needs of industry, which in this case is the duck farming industry. However, it is difficult to understand what normal behaviours the law is trying to protect, or the suitable environment it is trying to provide, if access to water for aquatic birds like ducks is not required.” said Edie Bowles, solicitor and co-founder of law firm Advocates for Animals. 

Animal Justice Project is leading the fight against the duck industry, having put cameras in Britain’s largest duck producer, Gressingham Foods three times since 2019 [12] - the dominant supplier of duck meat for the UK market supplying big retailers such as Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury's, Coop, Asda, Morrisons and Ocado [13].

The billboard campaign follows public outrage after Animal Justice Project’s undercover investigation inside Gressingham Food’s duck abattoir, with over 71,000 concerned citizens signing a petition demanding action from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) [14]. Gressingham Foods farms 8 million ducks a year [15] which is equivalent to killing around 150,000 ducks a week.

The investigations highlighted poor conditions across the industry: ducks afforded only bell drinkers - one drinker for 130 birds; lame birds struggling to walk and ‘back peddling’, trapped on their backs with their legs flailing in the air. Their huge bodies - unnaturally grown faster than a wild duck - unable to right themselves. Sick birds having necks snapped and thrown back, still flapping, amongst the other ducks. They are sent to slaughter at just six weeks old

"The Animal Welfare Act was put in place to supposedly protect farmed animals, yet millions of commercially farmed ducks held in vast, industrial sheds within the UK are not afforded even the most basic protections. This is despite clear acknowledgement by scientists that ducks should be provided with open water as well as a sound legal basis to require this. Our own cameras have documented the pain and suffering experienced by ducks housed by Gressingham Foods in their farms and during slaughter. For this reason, we are calling upon the government to ban this cruel industry. There is no place in Britain, or anywhere else for it” said Ayrton Cooper, Campaigns Manager for Animal Justice Project.

Evanna Lynch from Harry Potter, who narrated a video for the campaign states: "Consumers are largely unaware that ducks on UK farms rarely have access to an open source of water. A duck’s most basic instincts – swimming and bathing – are prevented by companies like Gressingham Foods. I implore everyone to see the individual animals behind the products you see on the supermarket shelves, and to stop supporting such mass cruelty. Animal Justice Project’s ‘Down with Duck Farming’ campaign is essential to building a kinder, brighter future for these aquatic birds.”

Watch the video:

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