Ducks have hit the headlines this month.
The RSPCA launched a report highlighting the importance of full body access to water for farmed ducks.
It may seem bizarre for some that a report is needed to highlight that bathing water is important to ducks. However, sadly for the majority of the 14 million ducks farmed for meat in the UK, they are not provided with full body access to water.
There are no legal requirements to provide farmed ducks with anything other than water to drink, and the duck industry’s own standards (Red Tractor) only require ducks to be able to cover their heads with water. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that animal welfare experts are having to speak out for millions of ducks.
Ducks are waterfowl, therefore they should be provided with water that allows them full body access. This is not only good for their health, as it helps keep their eyes, nostrils and feathers clean, but it also allows them to do the things they naturally want to do.
Consumers and duck meat
Duck a l’orange, duck pancakes, Peking duck and roasted duck breast are just some of the dishes found on menus across the country. Many people see duck as a premium product, something that is expensive and niche and a meat they are more likely to eat when treating themselves to a dinner out or for a special occasion.
The welfare of farm animals is a growing public concern with many demanding meat, eggs and milk from animals reared to higher welfare standards. However, a recent YouGov poll found that only two in ten people had ever thought about how ducks are reared and around 80% were appalled to discover that farmed ducks may never get access to bathing water. Here’s a selection of some of the responses:
“It feels implied with duck that they will be free-range”
“I’ve never heard the term ‘battery duck’ so I don’t think they are raised badly”.
“That’s duck off the menu for me.”
“Ducks should be allowed to live naturally, ie water to bathe in, whatever the end of their lives has become.”
What assurances are there for duck welfare?
In the UK there are three main farm assurance schemes that cover duck meat production: the food industry’s own Red Tractor Assurance scheme, the Soil Association certification scheme and the RSPCA’s Freedom Food scheme. The RSPCA standards have very detailed specifications regarding open water provision, and you can find out more about what each of these assurance schemes require with regards to the key concerns affecting duck welfare in the report on page 17.
So should you order or buy duck?
Many restaurants are priding themselves on the provenance of their animal products and sourcing ingredients from farms where the lives of the animals have been given due consideration. Therefore, these restaurants will want to source duck meat from higher welfare farms.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult for consumers and food businesses alike to find any meat from ducks reared to welfare standards the RSPCA would find acceptable. RSPCA Freedom Food do not have any approved duck farms under the scheme, therefore, unless you can be confident that the duck meat you buy or order comes from a farm providing ducks with full body access to water, we strongly encourage not choosing that duck meat, due to welfare concerns associated with poorer conditions.
To find out more about the welfare of farm ducks and to read the report visit: www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/farm/ducks