RSPCA duck campaign slammed

Poultry leaders have hit back at a new duck campaign by the RSPCA, accusing the charity of misleading consumers with “incorrect” claims to promote its own welfare standards brand.

The RSPCA has launched its ‘Like a duck to water’ campaign, claiming that while duck farming is on the rise in the UK, welfare has gone backwards, with millions of birds being deprived basics like bathing water.

The charity said that while 14.7m ducks were reared for meat in the UK last year, only a third were reared to RSPCA welfare standards. It claims its campaign is aiming to highlight what it describes as the “terrible” conditions that UK ducks can be legally reared in, which include sheds with no windows or bedding.

The RSPCA standards insist on bathing water, bedding and natural light, but it said a recent decision by a major duck producer to drop out of its scheme meant the number of ducks produced to RSPCA standards had fallen from half to around 30%. It said this was "a huge backwards step for the welfare of about two million ducks” and claimed that this "downgrade"  was one of the contributing factors for launching the campaign. It is urging consumers to seek out products bearing the Freedom Foods logo.

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.”

However, the British Poultry Council described the charity’s campaign as “disappointing”. It said the industry’s Duck Assurance Scheme has requirements for the provision of water for ducks reared indoors and the RSPCA Freedom Foods scheme both require the ducks to have access to open water.

It said the British duck companies had worked closely with welfare researchers at Oxford and Cambridge universities, the RSPCA and Defra on the water preferences of ducks and the Duck Assurance Scheme Standards reflect the published findings of this research and the experience of the duck producers.

It described the RSPCA claims of lack of access to bedding or water as “disingenuous”, claiming that ducks reared in the UK are all provided with fresh litter as bedding and this is topped up on a daily basis and sufficient open water sources must also be provided for the bathing requirements. In a statement it said: “These are specified requirements in the Duck Assurance Scheme and the RSPCA knows this.”

It added: “Duck welfare standards have been upgraded for all ducks in the UK reared under the Duck Assurance Scheme, as the duck-producing companies have taken on the findings of scientific research. Shoppers can be assured that the high standards required by the Duck Assurance Scheme properly provide for the health and welfare needs of ducks reared in the UK.”

But the RSPCA denied it had mislead the public saying its intention was to highlight the failure of the law to safeguard duck welfare, and that its data clearly compared its own standard and that of the DAS with the law's "inadequate" requirements. However, it hit back at the BPC's interpretation of 'open water' facilities, pointing out that the DAS's standard is only sufficient to allow ducks to dip their heads in an open channel rather than immersing themselves. It said: "Ducks are water birds and it is unacceptable that access to bathing water is not a mandatory requirement of the Duck Assurance Scheme."