Nationwide (March 28, 2022) — High-profile investigation at Gressingham Foods, the dominant supplier of duck meat for the UK market supplying big retailers

Nationwide (March 28, 2022) Following high-profile investigations [1-4] at Gressingham Foods, the dominant supplier of duck meat for the UK market supplying big retailers - ASDA, Coop, Waitrose, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco [5], seventeen farm animal rescue centres, nineteen nationwide animal rights organisations (including PETA UK, Viva!, Animal Aid and OneKind), veterinarians, animal behaviourists, TV celebrities - Peter Egan (Downtown Abbey), Evanna Lynch (Harry Potter), Megan McCubbin (Springwatch), and guitarist, singer and songwriter Sam Carter (The Architects) have signed a letter [6] to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice, urging the government to ban the commercial duck industry due to its alleged failings under the Animal Welfare Act, 2006 [7]. Evanna Lynch has also narrated the campaign video [8].

Claire Palmer, Animal Justice Project spokesperson states: “The Animal Welfare Act is in place to protect farmed animals, yet most farmed ducks in the UK are not afforded even the most basic protections. Under Section 9, animals must be provided with a ‘suitable environment’ and ‘be able to exhibit natural behaviour’. Yet the majority of farmed ducks in the UK have no access to open water; they cannot, therefore, bathe or swim, thus rendering the environment unsuitable and preventing the expression of natural behaviour. For this reason, we are calling upon the government to ban the industry”.

As part of their ‘Down with Duck Farming’ campaign [8], sky-reaching billboards have gone up in five cities across Britain [eg 9] expected to reach over half a million (565,795) people with the message that duck farming is at odds with UK legislation. It is also, according to pressure group Animal Justice Project, in violation of one of the Five Freedoms (specifically ‘Freedom to express normal behaviour’) [10] and The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations (2007) [11] regarding consideration to the adaptation and ethological needs of ducks. 


Last month, 71,000 concerned citizens signed an Animal Justice Project petition [12] demanding action from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) against Gressingham Foods, and, this month, a Parliamentary Question was tabled by Labour MP Kerry McCarthy to question the policy of the government on the availability of water for commercially farmed ducks [13]. The Minister of State replied on one hand that DEFRA recognises “the welfare benefit of providing open water for ducks”, but on the other that 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, an animal welfare organisation that will not even stamp duck farms under its RSPCA-Assured label due to concerns, has shown that providing open water to commercially farmed ducks would be, however, commercially viable [14].

A wealth of scientific evidence reveals that open water is not just a ‘welfare benefit’, but vital for duck well-being. 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.

“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.

Eleven million ducks (and geese) are slaughtered in the UK [15] and Gressingham Foods alone farms around 8 million ducks [16] - equivalent to killing around 150,000 ducks a week. Animal Justice Project claim that the vast majority of birds are reared in industrial sheds with tens of thousands of others and no access to bathing water.

“Our investigations have highlighted poor conditions across the industry: ducks afforded only bell drinkers - one drinker for 130 birds; lame birds struggling to walk and ‘back peddling’ on their backs with legs flailing in the air. Their huge bodies - 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” says Palmer.

Evanna Lynch from Harry Potter, who backs the campaign and narrated a video says: "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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