More than eight million ducks are farmed and killed in the Australian duck meat industry. In New South Wales there is no legal requirement to provide ducks with water to swim, preen or bathe. Our laws are failing. The term "like a duck out of water" means someone out of their natural or normal environment and for the animals in the duck farming industry, that is their daily reality. Ducks are aquatic animals that require water to clean themselves, regulate their temperature and take pressure off their joints. Depriving them of something as fundamental as water can lead to severe health problems such as lameness, dislocated joints, broken bones, splay legs, heat stress and keratoconjunctivitis—a serious eye condition that causes blindness.
The cruelty in the industry is on par with battery cages used in egg farming. The life of a duck in intensive agribusiness is hard to think about. She will be deprived of water her whole life. She is a semi-aquatic animal who will never be able to even dip her head into water to clean her eyes. She will likely try to preen herself without water and ingest the faeces that are stuck to her feathers. She has weak leg and thigh joints, as they are designed for a life on water, so sometimes she will find it hard to stand and will be forced to sit in the build-up of weeks of faeces in a windowless shed, where the ammonia from the faecal matter will burn through her feathers and then through her skin. Her only access to water will be through nipple drinkers that are designed for chickens, not ducks.
One of the saddest things I have ever heard is that ducks rescued from agribusiness will not leave the water once given access to it. Such is her desperation for it, she will cling to it like it may never come back. Researchers call this post-inhibitory rebound, and it is similar to sleep deprivation in humans. But for most ducks in the animal agribusiness industry, the first time they experience water it will be electrified and fry their brain. At the slaughterhouse they will be hung upside down and have their heads dipped into an electrified water bath before their throats are cut open.
Ducks in the animal agribusiness industry are also bred to grow unusually large in a short period of time. The weight gain, in combination with a life of standing on solid ground with weaker leg and thigh joints, often sees ducks falling backwards and paddling in the air. Their juvenile wings are unable to give them the strength to re‑erect themselves. Despite being hardy birds, the conditions in which they are housed invite disease. The most shocking is Riemerella anatipestifer. I have seen many facilities affected by this hideous bacterial pathogen that can spread to thousands of birds on one property. Footage shows ducks with severe tremors, their heads twisted backwards while they walk in circles.
The animal agribusiness industry is always keen to talk about truth in labelling. Let us talk about truth in labelling, because the duck meat industry has a lot to answer for. The two major duck meat companies in Australia are Luv-a-Duck and Pepe's Ducks. Some years ago I called on the ACCC to prosecute Pepe's Ducks because it used the terms "open range" and "grown nature's way". I argued that the ducks were intensively factory farmed inside windowless sheds with no access to the outside or to any surface water, which is as far from nature's way or open range as one can get.
The ACCC listened and the courts agreed. Pepe's Ducks was fined $400,000 for false, misleading and deceptive conduct. I then called on the ACCC to prosecute Luv-a-Duck. This company used statements like "grown and grain fed in the spacious Wimmera Wheatlands." Of course, the ducks were confined to intensive sheds where they had no access to any spacious wheatlands. That led to another duck meat company being fined for misleading the public. Luv-a-Duck was fined $375,000 for false, misleading and deceptive conduct.
To date, the lack of public knowledge about the way ducks are farmed in Australia has operated to maintain grossly inadequate welfare practices. A history of deceptive advertising and an almost total lack of animal protection laws has caused the suffering of millions on ducks. As long as water deprivation remains legal in the animal agribusiness industry, animals will continue to suffer on a monumental scale. It is time to stop turning a blind eye to these cruelties, and to expose this industry for its total lack of care for these sentient animals.