In a letter to Viva!, Ben Bradshaw MP told us that approximately
5,500 ducks and geese are exported for breeding purposes annually
Cherry Valley is a global exporter, selling its livestock
and expertise to over 80 countries on five continents. It claims
it is developing the agricultural infrastructure of the third
world. Day-old parent stock is air-freighted in specially designed
containers, to ensure the birds arrive in peak condition at
the customer's farm, less than 24 hours after hatching (1).
The Pekin duck you eat in Hong Kong may turn out to be from
Lincolnshire, they say (2). And the sales patter continues:
'The unique bank of knowledge built up by Cherry Valley is
an important part of the complete package deal available to
overseas companies.' (3)
No research has been carried out on the export of live ducklings
but it seems likely they suffer the same problems of dehydration
as chicks. The term 'day-old' can be misleading as birds, even
from the same batch of eggs, do not all hatch at the same moment
and some may be considerably older than others. The need for
water, followed later by the need for food, increases with
age. The older the bird, the more likely it is to suffer from
dehydration and/or starvation.
Scientists from Bristol University's Department of Meat Animal
Science reported on the mortality associated with newly-hatched
chicks going without food and water for up to 48 hours. They
concluded: 'This work has demonstrated that large losses in
weight may occur while chicks are in transit for periods of
time which are likely to be common in commercial practice.'
Their research indicated that some chicks suffer serious weight
loss and are prone to dying immediately after placement in
the sheds (4).
One reason for a high percentage of 'day-olds' dying on arrival
was explained in an article published in World Poultry which
stressed: 'The condition of the chicks on arrival can be ascertained
before placing as severely dehydrated chicks will often seek
water and rush to the drinkers, leading to drowning.' (5)
There is no reason to believe that conditions are any better
for ducklings than they are for chicks and there has to be
great concern that serious problems exist with the transport
of ducklings. The reason for there being so little research
into duck welfare is that the market is small compared to massive
broiler chicken sales.
Export data relating to eggs are not broken down by species
and, consequently, it is not possible to provide a figure of
the number of duck eggs exported from the UK annually (8).
Varying farm standards
Cherry Valley progeny have permeated even overseas rural communities
and are now sold in markets in Asia (6), which now accounts
for 80 per cent of world duck meat production (7). One quarter
of the 1.3 billion ducks sold in China in 2002 were Cherry
Valley ducks. At just one farm at Shanghai, 80 kilometres east
of Bejing, 10,000 pure-bred Cherry Valley ducks are hatched
every day - all descendants of stock imported from Britain.
Each breeding duck produces as many as 185 ducklings to be
sold to local farmers and used to produce generations of meat
We do not believe it is a case of 'British good, foreign bad'
but standards are likely to be even lower in some markets than
those in the UK and this clearly puts welfare at risk.
There are real concerns over the standards of both housing
and feed. A report into international duck farming methods
by Robert Borrill, a Nuffield Scholar and holder of the Young
Nuffield Award, confirms this. It was published in Poultry
World, July 1996, and won him a double first. The following
quotes are all taken from it.
'There are plenty of leaking roofs and rancid feed, creating
high disease in China.'
'Pellets are gaining ground throughout the Far East, but still
too much dry, dusty mash and high wastage levels.'
'Housing (in China) ranges from basic overnight accommodation
to intensive day-old to death houses with mesh flooring.'
'...virtually 100 per cent nipple drinkers in US where they
cannot believe the UK still uses bell drinkers, with all the
problems of spilt water, wet litter.'
'Since artificial insemination arrived, hatching rates have
more than doubled from 40 per cent to 85 per cent.'
In the Far East, ducks are sometimes integrated with fish
farming, the fish consuming duck droppings, but problems are
inherent in the system.
'Stock the ducks at 1,500 to the hectare and the pond will
produce 10 tonnes of fish a year with no supplementary feeding
... Consumers don't seem to complain about the flavour of the
fish, but the industry is concerned about the prevalence of
duck viral hepatitis which has closed some multi-age sites.'
'Cash to quit: duck farmers in Hong Kong are being offered
money to get out [of duck farming] in a move to curb pollution.
On Long Island, USA, duck farms have been blamed for a brown
tide of untreated sewage hitting beaches.'
On welfare, Borrill wrote that everyone wanted to know about
Defra's welfare code for ducks and other livestock and said
that neither Asia nor the USA had seen anything like it. In
China he was asked: 'Why should ducks have rights when we humans
have so few?' Welfare groups were unknown almost everywhere
except for Hong Kong, where the one international organisation
was campaigning against the binding of ducks' legs before being
Often, the practice of artificial insemination involves caging
parent stock for ease of identification.
As with other forms of factory farming, there is no solution
to welfare problems other than providing conditions that the
animals really need. Ducks need water but keeping large numbers
of them in static water, as can happen in the Far East, often
leads to serious disease outbreaks. On the other hand, depriving
them of water is clearly cruel.
References (part five)
- Cherry Valley, 30 Years Evolution and Revolution
Independent, 21 March 1992
- Cherry Valley Farms, World leaders
- Responses of Newly Hatched Chicks to Inanition,
Warris. P.D et al. Veterinary Record, 18 January 1992
due to Dehydrated Broiler Chicks, Qureshi,
Dr A A. World Poultry, Vol 7, No. 4, 1991
- Cherry Valley,
30,000 Sales Outlets
- Poultry World, September 2003
- Letter to Viva! from Ben
Bradshaw MP, Minister for
Nature Conservation and Fisheries, 26 July 2004
British ducks push locals off the table,
Damien Mc Ellroy, The Sunday Telegraph, June 11