Types of duck
Beak trimming - a terrible mutilation
Size of the UK industry
Duck meat – the low fat choice?
Duck egg industry
References (part one)
Down on the factory farm
Ducks out of water - the cruellest deprivation
Water supply - varying standards
References (part two)
The legal position
The Council of Europe’s Standing Committee
of the European Convention for the Protection of Animals
Kept for Farming Purposes Concerning Ducks, adopted June
1999/2000 welfare regulations
UK code of recommendations
References (part three)
Amount of living space
Food and drink
References (part four)
Varying farm standards
References (part five)
Levels of suffering
Methods of killing
Religious slaughter of ducks
Instantaneous Mechanical Destruction: a hidden horror
Dry plucking machine
References (part six)
Starvation and injury
Diseases of intensification
References (part seven)
Major supermarkets stocking duck meat
Manor Farm Ducklings
Producers of duck meat
Telmara Farms Ltd
The rescued ducks
The Chinese sector - the overlooked trade in duck meat
Mock duck - an alternative
References (part eight)
The Council of Europe demands that: 'Where possible, birds
shall be encouraged to walk and handling reduced to a minimum.'
(2) And: 'Birds shall not be carried hanging head downwards
or by the legs alone. Their weight shall be supported by
a hand placed under their body and an arm around the body
to keep the wings in the closed position. Heavy birds shall
be carried individually and put into containers/crates one
by one. Transport crates with large openings shall be used.'
The Defra code offers the following advice on catching:
'It may be necessary to catch older ducks by the neck but
they should not be carried significant distances held by
the neck once caught nor should they be carried with more
than two birds in each hand. Once caught their weight should
be supported either by taking the weight of the bird by a
hand placed under its body, or by holding the bird with a
hand on either side of its body with the wings in the closed
position.' (1) This wording is too ambiguous; if the catcher
is carrying two birds how can he carry a bird 'with a hand
on either side of its body with the wings in the closed position'?
Sadly, the likelihood is that birds will be carried by their
necks whatever the distance.
The code continues: 'Birds should not be carried hanging
head downwards or by the legs alone.' (18) However, the code
does suggest that 'lighter birds below 3.3kg maybe lifted
by their legs for placing in the container/crate' (18). This
surely means that, despite the code saying that any bird
that is unable to stand on both legs should not be transported
(and should be killed on farm) (19), many birds will suffer
Also, if ducks should not be held by the legs and carried
upside down, it begs the question of why it is permissible
to hang them in shackles for slaughter - a process known
to be capable of causing pain and damage. Defra could offer
no explanation for the discrepancy.
Yet another scenario is presented by the RSPCA's Freedom
Food standards: 'Ducks must not be carried hanging head downwards
or by the legs alone. Ducks may be caught by their necks,
with no more than two birds in each hand. Birds weighing
more than 4kg must be carried individually. Their body weight
must be supported and they must be put into containers/crates
one at a time.' (4)
Catching Muscovy ducks is likely to present particular welfare
problems since they struggle wildly when frightened (5).
None of the existing codes or standards make any reference
Freedom Food's recommendation that two birds may be carried
in each hand also gives great cause for concern and appears
impractical as well as compromising welfare. When the catcher
arrives at the crates or modules, in which the birds will
travel to slaughter, both his hands will be full. Clearly,
the temptation will be to sling the birds straight into the
crates, just as so frequently happens to broiler chickens.
The alternative is to put one 'handful' down while dealing
with the other! The birds are unlikely to wait patiently
for their turn to be crated.
Levels of suffering
There are 15 UK slaughterhouses licensed to kill ducks.
The Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) is responsible for policing,
and previously would not release a list of addresses, deeming
such information 'commercially sensitive'. This decision
has now been relaxed and below is a table listing their details:
T (Orchard Lea Poultry)
Hasham & Sons
Taj & Co
Johnson & Swarbrick
E Button & Sons (Kerry Foods)
Ames (Ampthill) Hill
E F & Son
Foods Ltd T/A Manor Farm Ducklings
E Botterhill & Son
Although statistics are available for the different stunning
methods used to kill chickens and turkeys, ducks are not
included, despite the known welfare problems that duck slaughter
presents. The MHS simply states: 'In all cases these animals
(the 'minority species') were slaughtered by an approved
Methods of killing
According to Defra, before slaughter the birds should be starved
for at least six hours so that their intestines will be empty.
'Although starvation for much over six hours results in some
loss in carcass weight, in practice this is unavoidable where
substantial numbers are involved.'
Killing can be either by dislocation of the neck or by stunning
Dislocation of the neck can be a quick method of killing
provided it is properly done. However, Defra state that as
a duck's neck is rather long, 'this is not always easy' -
and if not done properly results in great stress and pain.
This is only recommended for small numbers of ducks, and
accounts for approximately 10 per cent of birds slaughtered
Defra state that this method is necessary if the birds are
to be sold as 'oven-ready' (15). The birds should first be
stunned, which may be achieved with an electric stunning
knife or, on a large scale, by their heads passing through
an electrically-charged waterbath. Then the brain is pierced
via the roof of the palate and the jugular vein severed (usually
manually). Before plucking, the birds must be bled out and
for this purpose specially shaped cones, often mounted on
a circular stand, are sometimes used. Bleeding time will
usually be in excess of two minutes (17).
The latest amendment to WASK (Welfare of Animals at Slaughter)
regulations have allowed a captive bolt gun (a pneumatic
or cartridge operated percussive device intended to produce
immediate death) to be used on ducks, for the purpose of
disease control (16).
In the 'processing plant' the live, fully conscious duckling
is hung upside down on a conveyor (a clarification of the
law stipulates that this must not be any longer than two
minutes, which came into force on 6 January 2005) (16). The
bird's head is supposed to be immersed in an electrically-charged
water bath in order to render the animal unconscious before
it is knifed and bleeds to death. But how effective is this
method of stunning?
In fact, little attention has ever been paid to ducks' suffering
at slaughter. Research at Bristol University's Department
of Meat Animal Science found that ducks were less susceptible
to a ventricular fibrillation (stopping of the heartbeat)
than either chickens or turkeys. They also established that
a stunning current of 250mA was necessary to induce a ventricular
fibrillation in 99 per cent of the birds (7).
Despite this, many ducks may be subjected to an attempted
stun by a current as low as 51mA (17) before being bled to
death. Few, if any, will be killed outright by a stun as
low as this and many will either fail to lose consciousness
or regain it before reaching the knife (the wait can be as
long as 21-25 seconds) (17).
According to UK law on slaughter, stunning means any process
which causes an immediate loss of consciousness that lasts
until death (8).
There is no differentiation between ducks and other poultry
in the regulations, although the requirement for special
treatment is clear. Defra's codes recommend a stun current
of 'at least 105mA' applies only to broiler chickens and
says: 'Where other species of poultry are being stunned ...
the manufacturer's instructions with regard to voltage and
current should be used as a guide when setting the stunner.'
In 2002, Defra published a draft code of practice for the
welfare of poultry at slaughter, which does make specific
reference to ducks. It recommends a minimum electrical current
stun of 130mA (19). However, this code has not yet been ratified;
a phone conversation with Defra confirmed that they are hoping
for this to happen in early 2006 - over three years since
the draft code was originally published. Defra were unable
to explain why it had taken so long (20). Again, as with
any recommendations, the figure of 130mA is merely a suggestion
and not enforceable by law (and is liable to change before
the code is ratified).
Even if this seems to be an improvement, Defra have appeared
to ignore scientific evidence as Bristol scientists have
deemed the much higher current of 150mA as an acceptable
minimum current for the slaughter of ducks (10). Bearing
in mind the ignorance surrounding duck slaughter and consistent
problems with electrical stunning, the manufacturer's instructions
may be of little help.
Although the majority of ducks are stunned via an electric
water bath, some are stunned via hand-held equipment (17).
Researchers at Bristol's Division of Food Animal Science
suggest that killing ducks with gas could alleviate some
of the welfare problems encountered in conventional electrical
stunning. It would omit the shackling stage, allowing the
ducks to remain in their transport crates until dead (11).
However, gas stunning has its own welfare problems and can
cause extreme breathlessness and panic. EU law states carbon
dioxide must be avoided 'as ducks are not as susceptible
to carbon dioxide as other birds' (14) and using it would
cause great distress. The Meat Hygiene Service's Animal Welfare
Report 2001 shows that, among the slaughterhouses that took
part, no ducks were slaughtered in this way in the UK.
As stated above, for an effective stun it is imperative
that a bird's head is immersed in an electrically-charged
waterbath. However, ducks are known to 'swan neck' - raising
their heads when entering the waterbath so avoiding full
immersion. The Bristol researchers believe that if only the
crop and bill are immersed, it will be less effective in
disturbing brain function than if the whole head had been
immersed. They concluded that incomplete immersion is generally
less effective at stunning than whole head immersion (12).
Further, the Scientific Veterinary Committee of the EU state
that they are concerned about the effectiveness of waterbath
stunning, because ducks in particular may not be immersed
in the waterbath at all (13). Ben Bradshaw, in his letter
to Viva! in response to our questions about the UK duck industry,
declared that: "There are no particular problems in slaughtering
ducks." Once again, the Government body supposedly setup
to oversee the welfare of farmed animals in the UK shows
Any ducks not rendered unconscious by the stun, or who regain
consciousness, will be fully conscious during the process
of having their throats cut and bleeding to death. With the
exception of so-called ritual (or religious) slaughter, this
Religious slaughter of ducks
The Meat Hygiene Service's Animal Welfare Report 2001 shows
that ducks were amongst animals slaughtered without prestunning
via Kosher and Halal methods. Despite the relatively small
numbers involved, this still raises serious welfare concerns
Instantaneous Mechanical Destruction: a hidden horror
It is believed that around 30 million male 'day old' chicks
are killed in the UK every year. Being the wrong sex to lay
eggs and too 'skinny' to be raised for meat, they are deemed
unnecessary by the industry and are killed either by being
gassed or thrown alive into huge electric mincers: a process
known as IMD (Instantaneous Mechanical Destruction).
Whilst the figures will undoubtedly be lower for ducklings,
IMD is an approved method for the disposal of what Defra refer
to as duckling 'hatchery waste': unwanted birds provided they
are less than 72 hours old, unhatched eggs and embyos. However,
the figure of live ducklings killed this way remains unknown,
as Defra does not collect any data relating to it (22).
WASK regulations make no provision for ducklings over 72 hours
old, and they would be slaughtered by one of the other methods
detailed in this chapter.
In a letter to Viva!, Defra stated: '[IMD is a ] ... method
used for the destruction of surplus male ducklings by a breeder
unit. Where movement restrictions imposed as part of measures
to control a disease outbreak mean that a producer could not
move ducklings from another unit to be finished, this device
would be used. Unhealthy ducklings could also be euthanised
via this route.' (22)
The Humane Slaughter Association (HSA) insists that IMD '...
is a humane and effective disposal method for day-old chicks
when used, managed correctly' (23). However, they admit that
the ability of a IMD machine to cause immediate death is greatly
dependent on the working parts operating correctly. IMD takes
place on the hatchery site. Hatcheries do not need to be licensed
as slaughterhouses do.
In something of an understatement, the HSA admit that the
process of throwing live, downy-feathered yellow ducklings
into a mechanical macerator is 'aesthetically unpleasant',
which probably explains why suppliers fight so hard to keep
footage of it happening from the view of the general public.
Ducks are plucked soon after killing. For moderate numbers
or where the ducks are to be sold uneviscerated 'dry plucking
combined with wax finishing' is recommended by Defra (15).
Dry plucking machine
The birds are stripped of feathers by machine, finishing
being carried out by hand. Duck feathers used for pillows,
quilts, cushions and decorations are almost all from the
intensive duck meat industry and obtained from the carcass
immediately the bird is killed.
The tail and large wing feathers are taken out first by
hand and kept separately. The machine operation takes one
to two minutes. The remaining stubs are removed by hand.
The down that clings to the flesh is difficult to remove.
It may be singed off; or for large numbers of carcasses 'wax
finishing' is used.
Hot paraffin wax is held in tanks at a temperature of 60
degrees centigrade. After immersion in the wax for about
five seconds the carcasses are removed and either sprayed
with cold water or immersed in a cold water tank. The hardened
wax is stripped off by hand or by using a rubber-fingered
drum plucking machine.
Most ducks are now sold eviscerated and frozen. Some of
the large intensive duck producers such as Cherry Valley
and Green Label have deep-freeze facilities and eviscerating
lines on their farms and carry out the whole production processes
from brooding to packing.
The birds are first supposed to be electrically stunned
and then pass a revolving knife at the beginning of a conveyor
line. This cuts the neck and the blood drains into a trough
as the ducks pass along the line. After passing through a
scalding tank at 60 degrees centigrade, the dead animals
are moved to a rubber-fingered plucking machine, through
a hot wax dip, then a cold dip to set the wax followed by
removal of the wax and down. Following evisceration they
are cooled in either slush ice or a spin chiller. After draining,
the carcasses are weighed and placed in plastic bags. The
giblets are usually wrapped in plastic film and stuffed inside
the body cavity (15). Their past and suffering forgotten?
References (part six)
Defra, Codes of recommendations for the welfare of livestock:
Ducks. Consultation document. 2004, para 103
Council of Europe, Recommendations Concerning Domestic
Ducks, Article 19, 6
Freedom Food, Welfare Standards for Ducks, Transport (Depopulation),
Council of Europe, Recommendations Concerning Muscovy Ducks,
Defra, Codes of recommendations for the welfare
of livestock: Ducks. Consultation document. 2004, para 104
The Welfare of Poultry At Slaughter (Draft), Code of Practice
2002, para 41
Phone conversation with Alison Pinto, Defra's
Animal Welfare Division, 11 March 2005
the UK Licensed Under the Poultry Meat, Farmed Game Meat
and Rabbit Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) Regulations 1995,
As Amended ('Poultry Meat') (last updated 24/02/2005), Foods
Standards Agency, http://www.food.gov.uk/foodindustry/meat/meatplant
Letter to Viva! from Ben Bradshaw
MP, Minister for Nature Conservation and Fisheries, 26 July