Marks & Spencer duck farm shame
In 2004, Viva! and its supporters persuaded
Marks & Spencer
to drop factory-farmed whole duck, after countrywide protests outside
its stores and a blitz of media attention. This followed Viva!’s
undercover investigation, which found atrocious conditions at their
suppliers (detailed below). M&S assured us that they intended
to roll out this decision to all of their duck meat products, and
had a commitment to "promoting free-range poultry". However,
a 2006 undercover investigation revealed that not only had
the chain cynically gone back on its word but it was still taking
ducks from the same supplier we exposed two years before, Manor Farm
Ducklings. This footage showed the usual litany of misery: thousands
of ducks crammed into a shed, filthy and dejected; soaking litter;
ducks blinded from lack of water with which to preen; and ducks with
open, bleeding sores.
Viva!’s Justin Kerswell was interviewed on Sky
News, where he openly criticised M&S and called on consumers
to take the lead, and to boycott duck meat entirely.
M&S’s response was to drop MFD Foods as a supplier,
whilst they undertook an investigation. In 2009, they now sell free
range duck from Cherry Valley for what they term 'fresh duck', but
refuse to elaborate on where the rest of their duck meat comes from...
Below is an account of our 2004/2005 campaign:
Back in 2004, in another shocking Viva! undercover investigation, the reality of life
for Britain’s millions of factory farmed ducks was once again exposed to
public view. Covert filming at sites belonging to some of Britain’s
biggest producers of duck meat revealed the reality behind the fluffy
Easter duckling image. Featured in a major article in the Daily Mail, Viva!’s
investigation exposed Marks & Spencer as a customer of one of these
companies and April 3rd 2004 saw Viva! supporters protesting outside nearly
200 M&S stores to expose the truth to their customers. Find out more
about the protests by clicking here.
Modern farming techniques have turned the fluffy Easter duckling image
into a sick joke. 19 million ducks were slaughtered in the UK in
(in the mid 1970’s the UK duck population was barely a million).
We know what these birds lives are really like because we have investigated
several duck units. Twice we visited Manor Farm Ducklings, who then
supplied Marks & Spencer.
On our first visit, we saw thousands of fluffy, yellow ducklings in stinking,
windowless sheds. Some could barely walk and dragged themselves across
on their wings. Others had fallen on their backs and were unable to right
themselves and this is how they would die - a horrible, stressful death.
Many had already lost the battle to live and their little corpses were
scattered amongst the straw. One duckling had fallen behind machinery and
was hopelessly trapped - calling desperately for a mother who would never
Of course, none of these ducklings ever see their mothers. In the wild
it’s a different story and mother birds are fiercely protective of
their young – teaching them how to swim, preen their feathers, select
food and keep warm. But the ducklings we filmed are unable to learn anything
that is natural - there’s no sun, no wind, no rain to run off their
backs and near-constant artificial light.
Birds that have evolved to eat, swim, dive, clean and play in water never
even see it, except in their drinkers. One reason why it is so severely
restricted is because ducks naturally like to splash water over their bodies.
In factory farms, it causes choking ammonia to be released from the faeces-covered
Yet it is vital to ducks’ health to immerse themselves in water
but many cannot even dip their heads in it. The outcome is entirely predictable – dirty,
bedraggled feathers that can make it difficult to keep warm, eye problems
and even blindness.
On our second visit to Manor Farm six weeks later, the ducklings were
already at slaughter weight - white feathered, beautiful but utterly dejected
birds. The sight of thousands of them waddling around the shed in excreta,
with no way of escape and nothing to do, was awful. Again, we found more
corpses, including, some that appeared to have been there for a very long
time, and more injured and dejected birds, some in obvious pain and emotional
On another Manor Farm site, we found water even more pitifully restricted.
Nipple drinkers, which were designed for chickens, meant that these poor
birds had to battle for every drop of water – an incredible way to
treat aquatic birds. No wonder corpses were piled high amongst the
straw and slurry.
All Marks & Spencer duck meat, at the time, came from intensive units and
into doubt their claim to operate ‘strict selection criteria’.
Their righteous statement: “Our customers have the right to expect
that any animals involved in the production of Marks & Spencer food
items are treated with respect” also rang more than a little hollow.
they are not the only culprits as other supermarkets also sell intensively-reared
duck meat. What glared out at the time was the gulf
between the reality and M&S' marketing hype.
The conditions we uncovered showed the reality of farming today:
farmers know it, suppliers know it and the big supermarkets know it. They
just don’t want their customers to know it.