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Ducks out of water


A Viva! USA Campaign Against Duck Factory Farming

Ducks Out of Water 2005– MEDIA BRIEFING

Viva! USA first exposed the quiet industry that is killing millions of gentle birds in September 2000. With a combination of investigations and research, Viva!USA determined that a majority of the duck meat found in grocery stores comes from birds who only see water in the form of water nipples and who have the tips of their bills cut off.

After convincing several grocery store chains to stop buying duck meat from cruel factory farms, we have once again taken our video camera behind the barn door to see what we could find. We discovered disturbing new evidence of cruelty that will persuade compassionate consumers not to patronize grocery stores that purchase ducks from these farms.

Today’s duck breeding and rearing methods are as cruel as those adopted by the post-war chicken and turkey industries. Ducks have joined the ranks of the factory-farmed animal machines. The expansion of the duck industry is being encouraged just when the appalling welfare conditions and threats to human health caused by intensive animal rearing are provoking international concern.

In Focus: Maple Leaf Farms

Maple Leaf Farms is the largest producer of White Pekin ducklings in North America, processing over 15 million ducks per year at facilities in California, Wisconsin, and Indiana. According to Maple Leaf, the company controls every aspect of production. Maple Leaf justifies keeping ducks in indoor units, preventing them from being outside in a natural habitat, by saying it is better for the ducks. In fact, the company unequivocally states that the ducks are not “free-range.”

Maple Leaf Farms also controls one feather/down processing operation and two feather/down marketing companies. Down is typically used for pillows, cushions, and other items. Their Eurasia Feather Company represents 15 to 18 percent of the company’s annual sales revenue. Duck feathers from these factory farms are sold by retailers such as Pier 1 Imports.

Undercover filming

Viva! USA first investigated Maple Leaf Farms (MLF) in 1999 and 2000. We filmed at a number of MLF duck farms in various states, including California, Ohio, and Indiana. We recorded many instances of poor duck welfare, including dead and sick birds and some who could not stand. For example, at Maple Leaf Farms’ subsidiary Woodland Farms in Southern California, most birds were filthy and many had obvious eye infections.

In 2004, more investigations were conducted at Maple Leaf Farms and Woodland Farms. Investigators repeatedly visited the Woodland Farms slaughterhouse at 820 Jackson Street, Los Angeles, California. Ducks there were crammed in transport cages, and some birds were sick or injured. One duck’s leg was cut by a wire on the cage, and as he moved it back and forth, blood dripped on the duck below.

On MLF farms in Southern California, investigators found ducklings whose only access to water was from nipple drinkers; when investigators kneeled down, their clothes were soaked with urine.

Investigations at Maple Leaf Farms in Indiana (where the company’s headquarters is located) revealed ducks confined to windowless sheds and one duck who seemed to be suffering from some neurological problems to the point that his neck was turned backward.

Investigations of MLF farms in Wisconsin uncovered many ducks on their backs who could not stand; some had worn away the feathers on their wings by struggling to get up. These ducks were also kept in windowless sheds with only nipple drinkers to drink from.  

Size of the U.S. industry

In the United States, ducks represent a minor sector of the poultry industry compared to broiler chickens and turkeys. According to the latest figures, almost 24 million ducks were slaughtered in 2003 (compared to 8 billion chickens and about 270 million turkeys). According to the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), almost all ducks are raised indoors. In 1999, the Duckling Council reported that 95 percent of duck consumed is Pekin (descended from Mallards) followed by 2-3 percent Muscovy and 1-2 percent Moulard (typically used for foie gras).

Legal position

Ducks, like other animals raised for food, are excluded from the protections of the federal Animal Welfare Act. The federal government sets no rules or standards for how these animals should be housed, fed, or treated on farms.

Most state anticruelty statutes exempt any farming practice that is considered accepted, customary, or normal. So as long as it is considered a common practice, it is legal. Examples of such legal forms of cruelty include debeaking chickens and force-feeding ducks to produce foie gras.

It is also perfectly legal to send live ducklings through the U.S. postal service, as is practiced by some hatcheries .


Intensive sheds house thousands of ducks. Lighting in these buildings may be both dim and almost constant. In these crowded conditions, ducks get knocked over by other ducks. Some birds cannot even stand or walk, perhaps because of injuries or nutritional deficiencies. Many floor designs in total-confinement duck housing use either wire mesh or litter and wire mesh.Keeping ducks on wire results in painful abrasions, bruises and tears in the area of the hock, shank or foot pad.

Lack of water

Intensively reared ducks have no access to water for swimming; on most farms they are unable to even immerse their heads. Water is limited solely to drinking points.

Many ducks are forced to drink from nipple drinkers – literally a pipe with holes that dribble out water. Ducks are aquatic birds; in nature, they spend about 80 percent of their time on water. Denied this fundamental requirement, they can’t preen properly and find it difficult to keep warm. Without water, they often develop eye problems that can result in blindness.

Ducks naturally keep themselves spotlessly clean. In these filthy sheds, excrement and dirt builds up on the birds and they have no way to remove it.

Bill mutilation

Some duck farmers shorten the upper bill of a duck by burning or cutting it – without painkillers. This is done to control feather pulling, a behavior caused by the unnatural environment in which the birds live. This mutilation can lead to constant pain and even makes normal eating difficult.


According to the FSIS, there are 99 establishments with an approved USDA Grant of Inspection for duck slaughter. Just like other birds in food production, ducks are not required by federal law to be stunned before slaughter. However, for commercial flocks, electrical stunning is used.

Some researchers think that rather than rendering birds unconscious, electrical stunning may simply cause paralysis while inflicting severe pain. Additionally, every year about one million ducks are not

stunned properly. These birds are known to be conscious when their throats are cut. USDA data shows that thousands of ducks are still alive when they are submerged in scalding water to be de-feathered.

Dr. Mohan Raj, Senior Research Fellow in the Farm Animal Division of the School of Clinical Veterinary Science at the University of Bristol, has stated that the standard poultry industry method of dragging shackled birds head down through a cold salted electrified waterbath trough, is used because it is "simple and cheap," but that it is "not conducive to good welfare.” For example, over 90 percent of birds flap their wings due to the pain of being shackled, and evidence shows that birds suffer pain while they are being electrically "stunned."

There appears to be no way to ensure humane slaughter of birds in the superefficient, mass production poultry industry.

Duck suppliers

A majority of grocery stores sell factory farmed ducks, some of which include:

Albertsons (Acme, Jewel Osco)
Kroger (Ralph’s, Smith’s)
Wal-Mart Superstores
Winn Dixie

Due to Viva!USA’s campaign: Trader Joe’s stopped carrying all duck meat, and Earth Fare, Huckleberries and Wild Oats stopped carrying duck meat from the companies we investigated. Whole Foods Market has worked with one of its suppliers to ensure that ducks have swimming water, access to the outdoors and do not endure mutilations such as bill trimming. Whole Foods is also working to create new standards for all farmed animals.

Fully referenced copies of our Duck Out of Water report from 2000, as well as related videos and photos, are available on Viva!USA’s website: w ww.vivausa.org).