Opinion Former Article

RSPCA: Public is ‘appalled’ that ducks are reared without bathing water


Welfare getting worse for Britain’s forgotten farm animal

New research shows that eight out of ten people are ‘appalled’ that farmed duck can be reared without bathing water and think it should be illegal*.

More ducks are being farmed in the UK but, shamefully, welfare has taken a backward step with millions of ducks being deprived of the very basics like bathing water.

The RSPCA today launched the ‘Like a duck to water’ campaign to improve conditions for Britain’s forgotten farm animal.

Dr Marc Cooper, duck welfare expert from the RSPCA's farm animal science team, said: "Ducks are waterfowl, they need bathing water, why else would they have webbed feet?

“Bathing water is good for ducks’ health - it helps keep their eyes, nostrils and feathers clean. And in the same way that pigs like to root and chickens like to dust bathe, ducks like to have bathing water so they can do all the things ducks naturally do.”

About 14.7 million ducks were reared for meat in the UK last year** - only a third of them to RSPCA welfare standards. Despite being the third most farmed animal for meat in the UK, duck is joint bottom of the pecking order when it comes to public concern* and a vast majority of people (84%), according to a YouGov poll for the RSPCA, admitted that they had never considered how the birds are reared for meat*.

The RSPCA’s 'Like a Duck to Water' campaign is highlighting the terrible conditions UK ducks can legally be reared in and trying to put the brakes on falling welfare. You can find it at www.rspca.org/ducktowater and this is where you can take action and urge supermarkets to only stock duck which has access to bathing water.

By law, ducks can be reared in sheds with no windows, do not have be given bedding, and can be given nothing more than a metal ball bearing-type water drinker similar to that given to pet hamsters. (pictured left)

Some ducks in the UK can be reared to the duck industry’s own Duck Assurance scheme standards, but this scheme does not require ducks to have natural daylight or bathing water.

RSPCA welfare standards  insist on bathing water as well as bedding and natural daylight but, worryingly, the proportion of ducks being reared to these standards has dropped from about half of UK production in 2010 to about 30 per cent last year** and it has declined further in the first few months of this year.

One of the contributing factors is that one major duck producer and supermarkets have downgraded from RSPCA welfare standards to join the Duck Assurance Scheme – a huge backwards step for the welfare of about 2 million ducks **.

A YouGov poll for the RSPCA revealed:

—  More than eight out of ten people (81%), rising to 88%of women agreed they were 'appalled' that by law farmed ducks may never get access to bathing water

—  Eight out of ten people (80%) rising to 86%of women thought it should be a legal requirement to give farmed ducks bathing water

—  83%, rising to 88%of women and 90%of the over 55s, agreed that supermarkets should only sell duck meat from farms which provide bathing water

Duck ‘seen as a luxury’

Eloise Shavelar, RSPCA campaigner, said: "More ducks are being reared in the UK but sadly welfare appears to be getting worse.

"Even animal lovers don't realise that there are severe welfare problems for farmed duck because it's seen as a luxury product and therefore shoppers don't think it's intensively reared in a similar way to chicken.

"We've all grown up seeing ducks on ponds at the park and naturally assume farmed ducks must have bathing water too – incredibly, that is not the case.

“We want shoppers to know the truth about the duck meat they buy and help make life better for Britain’s forgotten farm animal.”

Animated film

Shoppers can make sure they are buying higher welfare by looking for the blue and white Freedom Food logo which means the duck comes from farms inspected to the RSPCA's strict welfare standards.

Freedom Food labelled duck is on sale at some branches of Sainsbury’s.

The RSPCA has produced an animated film about the plight of Jennifer the Pekin duck called Uncomfortable Tails and you can see this at www.rspca.org.uk/ducktowater


Notes to editors

The RSPCA defines bathing water as an open water source that allows full body access for the ducks.

For interviews with Eloise Shavelar or Marc Cooper contact Diane Roberts in the RSPCA press office on 0300 123 0194.

*YouGov findings:

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2212 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 30th July - 1st August 2012.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

—  Duck was joint bottom for the farm animal species the public is most concerned about. The top ten was egg-laying hens (19%), meat chickens (15%), dairy cows (11%), pigs (5%), beef cattle (4%), fish and lamb (3% each) and geese, turkey and ducks (1% each).

—  84% have never thought about how most farmed ducks are reared for meat

—  57% of people didn’t know most duck is reared indoors in barns – 23% thought they are reared on free-range farms, three per cent in the wild and 31% just didn’t know.

—   A fifth of people thought ducks are be provided with open water which allows them to bathe (21%), nearly three out of ten thought they are given barns with straw bedding (28%) and 17% thought they have barns with natural daylight - sadly none of these have to be provided by law

—  One in ten (10%) people who do not cook duck said welfare concerns put them off

**Defra and Freedom Food figures show in 2010 about 13 million duck were farmed in the UK, 50 per cent to RSPCA welfare standards (about 6.6 million)

In 2011 about 14.7 million duck were farmed in the UK, about 32 per cent to RSPCA welfare standards (about 4.7 million ducks)

There are no specific welfare requirements for ducks but the law says:

—  Ducks do not have to have bathing water to get their bodies into. In fact they do not have to be provided with anything other than drinking water which could be from a metal ball bearing drinker, similar to those used by pet hamsters

—  Ducks do not have to have bedding, such as straw

—  Ducks do not have to have natural daylight

—  Ducks can be mutilated by having their beaks trimmed

—  There is no limit on the number of ducks that can be placed within a building

Under the UK duck industry’s Duck Assurance Scheme (DAS), ducks:

—  Do not have to be given bathing water (i.e. water that allow the ducks full body access)

—  Do not have to have natural daylight

Under the RSPCA welfare standards, ducks:

—  Must have bathing water that allows full body access

—  Must have bedding, such as straw

—  Must have natural daylight

—  Cannot be mutilated by having their beaks trimmed

—  Are protected by more than 400 welfare standards from hatching to slaughter - almost double the number of standards compared with DAS (Cont)

—  Are provided with over 30% more space than that provided to ducks under the DAS

RSPCA, Wilberforce Way, Southwater, Horsham, West Sussex RH13 9RS
Press office direct lines: 0300 123 0244/0288  Fax: 0303 123 0099
Duty press officer (evenings and weekends) Tel 08448 222888 and ask for pager number 828825
Email: press@rspca.org.uk  Website: www.rspca.org.uk

"Fancy running for a great cause? Apply for an RSPCA place on the Great South Run now: http://www.rspca.org.uk/ 

More Articles by RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) ...

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