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Legal position

Unfortunately, ducks, like other animals raised for food, are excluded from the federal Animal Welfare Act. There are no standards set by the U.S. government in terms of how these animals are housed, fed, or treated on farms.

The federal Humane Slaughter Act of 1978 (which requires that livestock slaughter "be carried out by only humane methods") applies only to slaughterhouses subject to federal meat inspection and excludes poultry (1). According to the FSIS, all duck meat is federally inspected (2). Some states require that poultry are to be rendered unconscious before slaughter. Concerns about this method are discussed in the slaughter section (Part Four) of this report.

Most states allow what are considered to be accepted, common, customary, or normal farming practices as exemptions from state criminal anticruelty statutes (3). So as long as it is considered a common practice, it is legal. This includes debeaking of chickens and force-feeding of ducks (for foie gras).

The federal Twenty-Eight Hour Law of 1877, intended to protect farmed animals during transport, was repealed and reenacted in an amended form in 1994. This law states that animals cannot be transported across state lines for more than 28 hours by "rail carrier, express carrier, or common carrier (except by air or water)" without being unloaded for at least five hours of rest, watering and feeding (4). There is some uncertainty if this law applies to trucks (5), the main method of transport for farmed animals. As discussed later, some farms send ducklings through the mail. The Twenty-Eight Hour Law of 1877 is the only ferderal law that would apply to duck welfare.

Even if other federal animal welfare laws applied to farmed birds, they would offer very little protection as the maximum penalties are low. Most of these laws are difficult to enforce and are under the jurisdiction of agencies that are not knowledgeable about them, and do not have the people power or interest to enforce them.


The U.S. government keeps very few statistics on ducks. The FSIS keeps statistics about ducks when they arrive for slaughter. They are broken down by those that arrive with certain diseases, bruises, tumors and includes those that are boiled alive (6).

According to the FSIS, there are 99 establishments with approved USDA Grant of Inspection for duck slaughter (7). In 1999, 28 of these slaughtered almost 24 million ducks (8).

At the writing of this report, the FSIS was unable to provide information concerning how much duck meat/eggs are imported/exported and if the U.S. exports live ducks for food (9).

References (part three)

1. Wolfson, David J., Beyond the Law (USA, Farm Sanctuary, 1999), 14.
2. United States Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Consumer Education and Information, July 1996. www.fsis.usda.gov/oa/pubs/duckgooos.htm.
3. Wolfson, Beyond the Law, 18.
4. Wolfson, Beyond the Law, 13.
5. Wolfson, Beyond the Law, 14.
6. Electronic Reading Room::ADRS, Animal Disposition Reporting System (ADRS), Ducks Condemned Postmortem in USDA Inspected Establishments Period: Fiscal Year 1998. www.fsis.usda.gov/ophs/adrsdata/1998adrs/pmdufy98.htm
7. Establishments with Approved USDA Grant of Inspection for Duck Slaughter and USDA Inspected Establishments that Slaughtered Ducks and Geese - FY 1999. Information obtained through a FOIA to FSIS (June 2000).
8. Ducks and Geese Slaughtered in USDA Inspected Establishments Period: FY 1999. Information obtained through a FOIA to FSIS (June 2000).
9. Letter from FSIS regarding FOIA request, dated June 1, 2000.



Report Contents

Part One

Size of the U.S. industry
Types of ducks
Intensive confinement
Bill trimming (debeaking)
Viva! ends duck debeaking in Britain
Wire flooring
Slatted floors
Food and drink
Water denied
Behavioral patterns
References (part one)


Breeding ducks

Amount of living space
Sexual patterns
Forced molting
Duck eggs
Parent stock
References (part two)


The Government and ducks

The legal position
References (part three)



Electrical stunning
Stunner failings
Boiled alive
References (part four)


Disease patterns

Medicated feeds
Global diseases
Diseases of intensification
References (part five)


Duck suppliers

Maple Leaf Farms
Grimaud Farms
Metzer Farms
Culver Duck
Some of the Major supermarkets stocking duck meat
References (part six)


Global resources

References (part seven)