Access to open water sources
We believe that, as ducks are waterfowl, they should be provided with access to hygienically managed open water sources that enable them to carry out their water-related behaviours, such as preening and head dipping.
Unfortunately current UK law does not require water to be provided to ducks for anything other than drinking, and ducks may only have access to water from drinkers such as the nipple drinker pictured above. We believe the law should be changed so that producers are legally required to provide farmed ducks with suitable open water facilities.
We are also concerned that commercial duck breeding may be heading in the direction of increasing the rate of growth of ducks beyond a level that is acceptable to welfare. For example, increased selection for growth rate in other farmed species, such as meat chickens (broilers), has led to an increase in the number of birds developing heart and leg problems, causing suffering.
Foie gras production
Foie gras means ‘fatty liver’, a product produced from the livers of force-fed ducks or geese and used to produce foodstuffs such as pâté de foie gras. Foie gras is not produced in the UK, and would be illegal to produce under animal welfare laws due to the welfare problems involved and the unnatural nature of the feeding technique. The main producers of foie gras are France, Hungary, Bulgaria, Spain and Belgium.
Prior to force feeding, birds are typically kept in buildings on straw bedding and allowed access to an outdoor area. Force-feeding begins when the birds are around 12 weeks of age and occurs for around 12 to 15 days before slaughter. During this time the birds are usually force-fed two or three times each day. For force-feeding to occur, the birds have first to be restrained. During the force-feeding period, most ducks (around 80 per cent) are therefore kept individually in small, wire or plastic cages with their head protruding through an opening in the front, so that the neck is easy to grasp. During the force-feeding, a person grasps the bird by the neck and inserts the feeding pipe into the birds mouth and down its oesophagus (a process known as ‘gavage’). A large quantity of mashed maize and fat is then delivered directly into the lower oesophagus over a period of around 45 to 60 seconds using either a motorised or hand-operated auger, or for 2 to 3 seconds using an automatic pump.
We are opposed to the production of foie gras due to the many serious welfare problems it causes for the birds involved. For example, force-feeding prevents birds from carrying out their normal feeding behaviour, and the feeding pipe used can damage the birds’ throats. The handling involved during force-feeding can also be stressful.
Due to the force-feeding, the birds’ livers may become 6 to 10 times the normal size and stop working properly. Studies have shown that death rates can be 10 to 20 times higher in force-fed birds during the two weeks prior to slaughter.
In addition, we have major concerns about the keeping of birds in small, individual cages. These do not allow the birds to stand, walk, preen or stretch their wings properly, and do not allow access to water for the birds to carry out water-related activities such as preening.