Vegetarians International Voice for Animals

Viva!’s response to M&S’ standard replies

[note: kept for historical purposes. This page relates to a Viva! action in 2004/2005]

M&S are clearly not used to being criticised for their supposedly superior animal welfare standards. In the CIWF Supermarket Survey 2003, M&S make no secret that their ducks bred for meat are 100% factory farmed. Even on their own website they say all of these ducks are kept in sheds. You wouldn’t know this from the labels they stick on their duck meat which misleadingly show scenes of open country - open country that their ducks will never see.

Despite trying to ‘refute’ our claims, the generic statements they have issued in response to complaints make little attempt to address the points we actually made. Instead, they have tried to confuse the issue by addressing irrelevant issues and attempting to discredit our footage.Their initial claims that it was ‘categorically’ not their farm that was shown in our footage became rather more timid, however, when we presented them with our investigator’s sworn affidavit and other evidence that pin-pointed the exact location of the farms. M&S hide behind a wall of corporate rhetoric but the fact that their ducks are factory-farmed in conditions like those we exposed is incontestable.

Our specific responses to Marks & Spencer’s comments are:

“No nipple drinkers are used on any of Manor Farms duck farms used for the supply of Marks & Spencer; all our supplying farms use bell drinkers which permit the birds to drink freely and fill their bills with water to throw onto their feathers to perform preening behaviour.”

[Our response] Nipple drinkers are used on one of the Manor Farm sites we filmed at. The ducks have to stretch and fight for every drop of water, the lame ones are unable to even get close, and most likely succumb eventually to dehydration. How can M&S justify using a supplier who does use nipple drinkers for some of its birds – regardless whether these are actually M&S ducks? Surely, if M&S claim that none of their ducks come from farms with nipple drinkers it implies that they think they are cruel.

M&S states that it uses bell-type drinkers. Most of these type of drinkers currently in use do not allow full immersion of the ducks’ head, and so can lead to serious welfare issues. At the Manor Farm site we filmed where the ducklings had access to bell drinkers, we still found many birds with filthy feathers and crusty eyes. These birds were evidently unable to preen and clean themselves successfully, and were suffering because of this.

“No ducks produced for Marks & Spencer are de-beaked.”

We’re glad to hear it! Viva! and its supporters campaigned successfully in 2000 to end de-beaking. M&S was one of the stores that stopped selling duck meat from ducks who were de-beaked following our campaign.

“We have stopped selling Barbary duck”

This followed a Viva! campaign when we exposed that virtually all factory farmed Barbary ducks were de-beaked. M&S only stopped selling these ducks after the Viva! campaign.

“Welfare inspections are carried out at least three times a day on farms and any sick or injured bird would be treated appropriately and any dead bird would be removed.”

We have footage from one site showing ‘stock control’ charts detailing that many days the flock was ‘checked’ only twice, not three times – and on at least one day there are no entries at all.

At both sites we found carcases that had not been picked up and were left scattered amongst the flock. Many had been there for some time; some of which were in clear stages of decomposition. Also, on both sites we found carcases that had been removed from the flock but had not been disposed of properly, and were still left piled on the floor (where there was a clear danger that they could attract vermin). We also found injured ducks, and those in clear states of distress, that had not been removed from the flock.

“The farm pictured on the leaflet is not part of the Manor Farms group. ”

All the photographs we have used are from Manor Farm Ducklings’ sites, unless we have explicitly stated otherwise in the accompanying caption. We have never claimed the external shot of a duck farm that we showed in our appeal letter was a Manor Farm unit, the picture has the caption: “Manor Farm Ducklings spend their short lives in bleak units like these” (emphasis added). The screen-grabs are from undercover footage obtained at Manor Farm sites. Not only did we utilise GPS (Global Positioning Systems) to prove where this footage was taken (this is clearly shown many times on the footage), but the footage also often shows easily identifiable Manor Farm Duckling signs (with site addresses), and wall charts.

“We currently do not provide birds with access to water for swimming behaviour. This is something we are investigating, however this also needs to be considered from a bird health and food safety point of view. The provision of any facility to permit the birds to swim will also need to be examined from a hygiene perspective. Any facility would need to ensure the water is maintained in a hygienic condition to prevent the risk of disease and ensure bird health and biosecurity is maintained.”

Access to water is fundamental to the lives of ducks. In the wild they would eat, swim, dive, clean and play in water. To deny them this is to frustrate their every natural instinct. Obviously, we welcome any move to improve the ducks’ access to water. However, it is the sheer numbers involved in the intensive farming industry that prohibits this being done on such a large scale. Of course there will be hygiene issues if 10,000 birds are given access to open water.

Even the Council of Europe recognises that ducks are essentially wild birds (2).

“All our fresh duck is produced on known farms according to our specifications, which insist on high standards of poultry welfare. They ensure that the birds are housed in an appropriate environment, are fed a wholesome diet, are properly cared for by skilled conscientious stock-keepers and receive regular veterinary checks. Farms are inspected regularly to verify they meet our specifications. ”

M&S seem to think that a concrete box, where there is little or no access to water, and where the ducks are crammed, in their thousands, is an appropriate environment for essentially wild, aquatic birds. We have found evident neglect at the Manor Farm Ducklings sites we filmed at. Why should M&S feel confident that conditions are better on their supplier’s other farms?

Plus, we don’t believe it is possible for a vet give adequate care to each sick or injured duckling when intensive farms regularly have thousands of birds crammed into each shed. Saying you have high standards is one thing, but it is the actual nature (and making sure they are carried out properly) that are the important. Will M&S let us see these ‘high standards’ in practice? Even the basic facts that 100% of M&S’ ducks are intensively farmed (3), and they are all cooped up in these concrete sheds for the whole of their pitifully short life will be enough to turn the stomachs of most of their customers. The simple truth is that you cannot have high standards of animal welfare on a factory farm.

That’s why we call on M&S to show their true colours – if they really believe in showing animals respect they’d clear their shelves of all factory-farmed duck meat.

“We are currently working with our suppliers to introduce free-range ducks, but so far have not been satisfied with the standards many free-range ducks are produced to. Needless to say, this is one of our priorities.”

What standards do these refer to? Welfare standards, or the kind of standards that relate to maximizing M&S’ profitability? The fact that M&S is still cooping Britain’s favourite bird up in these barren prisons strongly suggests the latter!

“We currently do not provide birds with access to water for swimming behaviour. This is something we are investigating, however this also needs to be considered from a bird health and food safety point of view. The provision of any facility to permit the birds to swim will also need to be examined from a hygiene perspective. Any facility would need to ensure the water is maintained in a hygienic condition to prevent the risk of disease and ensure bird health and biosecurity is maintained.”

Access to water is fundamental to the lives of ducks. In the wild they would eat, swim, dive, clean and play in water. To deny them this is to frustrate their every natural instinct. Obviously, we welcome any move to improve the ducks’ access to water. However, it is the sheer numbers involved in the intensive farming industry that prohibits this being done on such a large scale. Of course there will be hygiene issues if 10,000 birds are given access to open water.

Even the Council of Europe recognises that ducks are essentially wild birds (2).

“All our fresh duck is produced on known farms according to our specifications, which insist on high standards of poultry welfare. They ensure that the birds are housed in an appropriate environment, are fed a wholesome diet, are properly cared for by skilled conscientious stock-keepers and receive regular veterinary checks. Farms are inspected regularly to verify they meet our specifications. ”

M&S seem to think that a concrete box, where there is little or no access to water, and where the ducks are crammed, in their thousands, is an appropriate environment for essentially wild, aquatic birds. We have found evident neglect at the Manor Farm Ducklings sites we filmed at. Why should M&S feel confident that conditions are better on their supplier’s other farms?

Plus, we don’t believe it is possible for a vet give adequate care to each sick or injured duckling when intensive farms regularly have thousands of birds crammed into each shed. Saying you have high standards is one thing, but it is the actual nature (and making sure they are carried out properly) that are the important. Will M&S let us see these ‘high standards’ in practice? Even the basic facts that 100% of M&S’ ducks are intensively farmed (3), and they are all cooped up in these concrete sheds for the whole of their pitifully short life will be enough to turn the stomachs of most of their customers. The simple truth is that you cannot have high standards of animal welfare on a factory farm.

That’s why we call on M&S to show their true colours – if they really believe in showing animals respect they’d clear their shelves of all factory-farmed duck meat.

“We are currently working with our suppliers to introduce free-range ducks, but so far have not been satisfied with the standards many free-range ducks are produced to. Needless to say, this is one of our priorities.”

What standards do these refer to? Welfare standards, or the kind of standards that relate to maximizing M&S’ profitability? The fact that M&S is still cooping Britain’s favourite bird up in these barren prisons strongly suggests the latter!

References
1. Ducks and Geese. MAFF. HMSO. 1986 
2. Under Article 3 (Biological Characteristics of the Domestic Duck), it states "...all breeds retain many biological characteristics of their wild ancestors." (Article 3a) – [The Council of Europe’s Standing Committee of the European Convention for the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes concerning Ducks, adopted June 1999] 
3. The CIWF Supermarket Survey 2003.
4. Ducks and Geese. MAFF. HMSO. 1986 
5. Under Article 3 (Biological Characteristics of the Domestic Duck), it states "...all breeds retain many biological characteristics of their wild ancestors." (Article 3a) – [The Council of Europe’s Standing Committee of the European Convention for the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes concerning Ducks, adopted June 1999] 
6. The CIWF Supermarket Survey 2003.