The Co-op continues to duck the issue | Viva! - The Vegan Charity

The Co-op continues to duck the issue


Viva!’s response to the Co-op’s standard letter

Many of you will, by now, have received a standard letter from the Co-op with regards to our investigations into the duck farms owned by their suppliers. Their response is entirely unsatisfactory. Despite seeing our evidence of the inherent cruelty associated with duck farming, they still dismiss our concerns with corporate spin.

The Co-op continues to claim that their suppliers have developed a code of practice “aimed at maintaining the highest standards of welfare and husbandry”. Yet, when we filmed at their supplier’s sites we revealed filthy, dejected, fearful, ill and injured ducks living in squalor and neglect – anything but good animal welfare.

It would be laughable, if it weren’t so tragic, that the Co-op tries to justify its factory-farming techniques by stating that, as ducks can be “extremely gregarious” and “flock together in large numbers” it is okay to cram them in to a windowless shed to spend their pathetically short seven week life with several thousand other birds. This is the sad reality for all of the Co-op’s ducks, and it is disingenuous to claim high standards of animal welfare when wild-natured, aquatic birds are condemned to overcrowded sheds with no access to water.

The standard Co-op letter states that Viva! acknowledges the disease implications of allowing ducks access to water for swimming – suggesting we somehow support not offering ducks water! This is not the case. In view of the aquatic nature of all ducks and their need for water to remain healthy, water deprivation represents a serious welfare insult to them. Obviously, if a company took the cynical action of allowing 10,000 ducks access to water there would be problems! But Viva! does not view this as a genuine effort to improve duck’s welfare – providing too little water to too many ducks is no way forward. Ducks are water animals and they must be allowed access to fresh, clean water – no compromise. The heart of the problem, of course, lies in the intensiveness of the farming – but it is always the ducks that pay the price. There are practical solutions to this – but they cost money. What does the Co-op consider more important: animal welfare or their profit margin?

So far, the Co-op has told us it does not intend to introduce free-range ducks in the near future but is currently using the newly-drawn up RSPCA Freedom Food standards for ducks. This is less than impressive and, on the basis of our past experiences, almost meaningless. The Freedom Food scheme claims to set the highest animal welfare standards when in fact they fall well short the Soil Association's standards and are usually little better than the legal minimum requirements. Despite the word 'Freedom', the scheme approves intensive, factory farming and does not in any way guarantee that the birds will be free-range. BBC Watchdog and other programme producers have filmed inside Freedom Food farms and exposed appalling conditions.

We really appreciate you writing to the Co-op – they really do take note of every correspondence – if you have time it would be great if you could write back and tell them you are not satisfied with their statement. If you do, please ask them to provide the details of their supposedly high standards.

The following are questions you may find useful to ask the Co-op:

  • The Co-op have proved themselves market leaders when it comes to Fair Trade coffee, and products such as toiletries not tested on animals. They made these ethical trade policies work, so why can’t they end factory-farming practices that result in the abject misery of hundreds of thousands of birds every year?
  • Why do the Co-op believe indoor sheds are an appropriate environment for an essentially wild bird?
  • Ask the Co-op why they are insulting your intelligence by trying to justify cramming thousands of ducks into a windowless shed under the pretence that they are “extremely gregarious”.
  • Exactly how many ducks do the Co-op guidelines allow to be kept in one shed, and what outside access is provided?
  • Ask the Co-op what the mortality rate for ducks is at their suppliers. The industry norm is around 5%, which means that on average around a million ducks die on factory farms in the UK before they reach even 7 weeks old. Does this reflect high animal welfare standards?
  • How much attention can one stockman give thousands of ducks per shed?
  • The fulfilment of maternal instincts is denied to today's commercial breeding ducks. Observation of mother ducks with their young suggests a strong bond. In the wild, the female Mallard usually looks after her ducklings for about two months. How does the Co-op justify the fact that no duck bred for meat ever sees its mother?
  • The Council of Europe (European Convention for the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes) states that ducks are largely aquatic and that all breeds retain many biological characteristics of their wild ancestors.  Most importantly it adds that farmed ducks should be allowed ‘the fulfilment of essential biological requirements, in particular in respect of water’.  They are clear that ducks should have the ability to swim, feed and preen in water. How does the Co-op excuse its complete lack of water in light of this?  
  • The Council of Europe has stated that heavier domestic birds, in particular those selected for meat production, may be unable to fly, have difficulty in walking and be subject to leg disorders. How can the Co-op suggest that lameness is a rare event (our footage shows that this is not the case). Also, ask them what “treatment” is given to ducks removed because of lameness – the greatest probability is that when/if they are found they will be slaughtered immediately on site.
  • Ask the Co-op why they insist that the slaughter of ducks is carefully monitored when Official veterinary surgeons are only obliged to observe slaughter once a day. Ducks are meant to be pre-stunned by being shackled upside down and immersed into an electrified waterbath. However, the Scientific Veterinary Committee of the EU state that they are concerned about the effectiveness of this method because ducks, in particular, may not be immersed in the waterbath as they are liable to ‘swan neck’ and many have their throats slit whilst still fully conscious. How does this square with the Co-op’s claims of humane slaughter? 
  • The European Convention acknowledges that preening is an important behaviour, and involves immersion in water, and birds need to spend considerable time doing this to remain clean and healthy. How do the Co-op tally ‘high welfare’ with ducks being denied this most fundamental behaviour?
  • Emphasise that high welfare standards and factory farming are a contradiction in terms. Why, if the Co-op care about animal welfare, do they source intensively reared duck meat?

Contact the Co-op!

Martin Beaumont, Chief Executive
PO Box 53
New Century House,
M60 4ES.

Freephone customer services on 0800 068 6727