The legal position
The intensive farming of ducks is not outlawed but nor has
its legality been put to the test in a court of law. The keeping
of aquatic birds without access to water other than for drinking
could constitute cruelty because of the gross deprivation involved.
On 19 June 1978, the UK ratified the Council of Europe Convention
for the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes.
Over two decades later in June 1999, the Council of Europe's
Standing Committee of the European Convention for the Protection
of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes adopted new recommendations
concerning domestic ducks (Anas Platyrynchos) and
Muscovy ducks (Cairina Moschata) and hybrids of Muscovy
and domestic ducks (Anas Platyrynchos).
If a member state of the Council of Europe signs a convention
this represents a solemn acknowledgement of the convention
but does not bind the state to carrying out all aspects of
it. But once that member state ratifies the convention, it
agrees to be bound by it. Having ratified it, the state does
have the right later to declare that it cannot - or no longer
wishes to - implement the recommendations but this has never
The Council of Europe's Standing Committee of the
European Convention for the Protection of Animals Kept for
Farming Purposes Concerning Ducks, adopted June 1999
There is a clear distinction between the meaning of the words
'should' and 'shall' in the Convention. Provisions
containing the words 'should' are simply guidelines whereas
'shall' implies that the provisions must be applied (2).
Under Article 3 (Biological Characteristics of the Domestic
Duck), it states: '...all breeds retain many biological
characteristics of their wild ancestors.' (Article 3a)
'Under wild conditions, the mallard is largely aquatic.' (Article
'Important elements of bathing are the immersion of the head
and wings, and shaking water from these over
the body.' (Article 3e)
According to the Convention, ducks shall fulfil essential biological
'The design, construction and maintenance of enclosures, buildings
and equipment for ducks shall be such that they allow the fulfilment
of essential biological requirements of ducks, in particular
in respect of water, andthe maintenance of good health...'
(Article 11, 1) Having stated its case so clearly, the Convention
then invites confusion by adding: 'The ducks should be able
to dip their heads under water.' (Article 11,2)
It is our belief that the first paragraph of Article 11
must take precedence over a later paragraph which is less
explicit in content. The Convention states clearly that ducks
are largely aquatic and retain many biological characteristics
of their wild ancestors.
It is now accepted that keeping laying hens in battery cages
is cruel, so cruel that the barren battery cage is to be replaced
in the EU from 2012 (from 1 January 2003, no new barren battery
cage systems may be brought into use) with 'enriched' cages
including a slightly increased space allowance, claw shortening
device, perch, nest boxes and litter for scratching and pecking
(7). It is appalling that cages have not been banned altogether.
Scientists have provided ample evidence to show that the laying
hen has lost none of her instincts and has consequently suffered
gross deprivation. Dr Marion Stamp Dawkins, of Oxford University's
Department of Zoology, has described the battery hen as retaining
'ancestral memory' (6).
Ducks are no less richly endowed with their own ancestral
memory. Water, central to the duck's swimming and feeding habits,
must rank as a prime 'memory'. Proof of this is the ability
and keenness of ducks to revert to a largely aquatic lifestyle
when given the opportunity.
Intensive duck farming worldwide denies ducks all access to
water, with the exception of shallow troughs or so-called bell
drinkers - which may be no deeper than 31/2 cm.
In some countries, including the UK and USA, nipple drinkers
are often used. They dispense water drop by drop and are popular
because they help to reduce the problem of sodden litter -
a major headache for intensive duck producers. Wet litter leads
to disease and ulcerated feet and hocks. However, in a letter
to Viva!, Defra stated that '... there are no particular problems
associated with wet litter' (11). Once again, seemingly ignoring
an already accepted fact. In the UK, fresh litter - usually
straw - is spread daily on top of existing litter in an attempt
to keep the flooring dry. Ducks are known for splashing around
any available water and for producing wet droppings. Both characteristics
are fine in their natural environment but can cause environmental
problems in overcrowded sheds.
The nipple drinker is gaining popularity in the UK amongst
duck producers, despite obvious animal welfare concerns, in
an effort to reduce ammonia emissions. This is as a result
of the UK Poultry Industry IPPC Compliance (UPIC): Quantifying
Building Design and Operating Factors for Reducing Aerial Emissions,
which came about due to the implementation of the 1996 European
Directive on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC)
Part 11 of Schedule 4 in the Welfare of Livestock Regulations
1994 states (under Additional conditions for intensive systems)
that livestock shall be thoroughly inspected by a stock-keeper
not less than once a day to check that they are in a state
of well-being. Cherry Valley Farms boasts that a saving on
labour is an important economic advantage of its system, enabling
85,000 birds to be looked after by just one person in some
It is impossible to inspect such a vast number of birds 'thoroughly'
and sick ducks will inevitably be neglected and some will be
left to die. The numbers of animals in today's units have become
too great for any realistic hope of individual attention. Cherry
Valley's boasts encourage practices which, we believe, could
and should be deemed illegal. No company that farms thousands
of birds per shed can 'thoroughly inspect' each animal daily!
Viva! found ill, filthy, dejected, dying and dead birds in
all of its investigations of the UK's major suppliers of duck
meat (see part eight).
1999/2000 welfare regulations
The only EU legislation specifically relating to ducks is
covered by the requirements of the EU Directive. This Directive
which is known as The Welfare of Farmed Animals Regulations
1999 - has replaced the Welfare of Livestock Regulations 1994.
In Schedule 3 (Regulation 5 Additional Conditions Under Which
Poultry (Other Than Laying Hens Kept In Battery Cages) Must
Be Kept) it dictates that: 'Where any poultry (other than laying
hens kept in battery cages) are kept in a building, they shall
be kept on, or have access at all times to, well-maintained
litter or to a well-drained area for resting.' It came into
force on 31 December 1999 (4).
The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2000 has
adopted this additional condition, and this provides scant
protection for ducks in the UK. It came into force on 14 August
UK code of recommendations
The codes are not law - but recommendations. In 2004, Defra
published its draft code for public consultation (10). The
final code will be published in 2006.
The preface of the code announces: '[It] is intended to encourage
all those who care for farm animals to adopt the highest standards
of husbandry.' It continues that, 'The welfare of ducks is
considered within a framework, elaborated by the Farm Animal
Welfare Council, and known as the 'Five Freedoms'.
However, these are merely guidelines with no legal backing
whatsoever. In fact, the new code highlights what are supposed
to be legal requirements that are applicable by law, and differentiates
them from what are merely recommendations - helpfully highlighting
which ones can be flouted without fear of prosecution by producers