An astonishing 25 million ducks are raised and slaughtered for human consumption each year in the United States. Pekin and Muscovy ducks are the most commonly farmed breeds, and, like other farm animals, they descended from wild ancestors. Left to their own devices, these social and inquisitive animals would spend substantial portions of each day foraging for food, swimming, resting, mating, and caring for their young (see AWI Quarterly, Winter 2002).
Ducks raised for meat are subjected to the same atrocities endured by other factory farmed animals such as restriction to inadequate flooring, overcrowding, solitary confinement of breeding animals, and mutilations. In the case of ducks, the most common mutilation is debilling, the removal of part of the top bill with scissors or a hot blade. Scientists acknowledge debilling causes acute and chronic pain. Confined to factories, ducks, who are waterfowl, are prohibited from accessing adequate amounts of water. Furthermore ducks, like all poultry, are exempt from the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which requires that animals be insensible to pain before they actually are killed. Two of the largest and most notorious duck factories are Maple Leaf Farms, with facilities in Indiana, California, Wisconsin, and Ohio, and Grimaud Farms, located in California.
In direct contrast to the cruel status quo, AWI continues to establish humane husbandry standards and has now developed criteria for ducks. AWI's standards allow ducks the opportunity to express natural behaviors essential to health and well-being such as swimming, bathing, and foraging for food. The water requirement also enables ducks to express natural sieving behavior. A duck has a row of toothlike serrations along the edge of the bill that are used to strain food out of the water. As for foraging, ducks naturally spend a substantial amount of time searching for food. AWI standards require ducks be fed nutritional feed and require that the food be distributed, or occur in the environment, so that the ducks search for it thereby providing enrichment and exercise. Additional criteria include outdoor access, shelter from extreme elements and predators, and minimal group size. Furthermore, wire and slatted flooring as well as debilling are prohibited.
AWI's guidelines are not only humane but practical, and past experience illustrates that public demand has the power to abolish cruel factory practices. One example is the case in England in which consumers refused to buy ducks that had been debilled. Farmers who had previously espoused that it was impossible to raise ducks without debilling responded to the pressure and stopped the practice of debilling Muscovies.
Contact AWI and visit www.awionline.org for copies of our humane husbandry standards. Pass them along to grocery store and restaurant managers. Do not purchase products from duck factories, and educate others about humane alternatives.