Ducks destined for Tesco and other supermarkets swung by necks and slammed into drawers in harrowing video

Exclusive: Secret footage of intensively reared birds at Red Tractor farm for Gressingham reveals repeated cruelty

Jane Dalton
Sunday 24 December 2023 17:36 GMT
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CCTV footage shows thousands of intensively farmed birds badly treated by workers

Secret camera footage shows ducks swung by their necks, slammed into drawers and hurled to the ground at a farm supplying the UK’s largest duck meat producer, which sells to the UK’s biggest supermarkets.

The video was shot when birds destined for Gressingham Duck, which supplies Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Co-op and, until recently, Waitrose, were being caught at a farm endorsed by farming standards project Red Tractor.

Animal rights activists said the “shocking and harrowing” footage revealed the brutal and inhumane treatment of nearly 10,000 intensively farmed ducks that were just 44 days old.

A worker carries three ducks by their necks at once
A worker carries three ducks by their necks at once (Animal Justice Project)

After The Independent showed the clips to Gressingham Foods and supermarkets, the duck giant suspended the farm, and Waitrose cut ties with it.

The RSPCA responded by banning the workers involved from catching turkeys and chickens on farms that are certified under its RSPCA Assured scheme.

Suffolk-based Gressingham, which produces most of the nine million UK ducks slaughtered every year through its contractor farms, says that, as well as supermarkets, it supplies specialist butchers and top restaurants nationwide.

Animal rights organisation Animal Justice Project (AJP), which filmed undercover in June and August at Byram Park Farm in North Yorkshire, said the footage showed “extreme abuse inflicted upon ducks”.

Director Claire Palmer said it also showed violations of welfare laws and government regulations during the crating and loading of nearly 10,000 ducks, which took just over two hours.

The “deplorable” conditions in which ducks were kept left them suffering high rates of feather loss, according to AJP.

“The footage shows numerous ducks ‘back-peddling’, unable to right themselves,” said Ms Palmer. “Catching is a secretive side of the industry, and this highlights the systemic issues in it.”

The footage shows ducks being carried by their beaks or necks
The footage shows ducks being carried by their beaks or necks (Animal Justice Project)

She said the video showed:

  • Forceful closure of crate doors onto ducks’ heads, wings, and limbs
  • Catchers violating Red Tractor rules by swinging ducks by their necks
  • Catchers grabbing up to three ducks per hand, exceeding a Red Tractor rule of no more than two
  • Injured and lame ducks being thrown aside, destined for on-site euthanasia by neck dislocation. Workers grab a duck by the neck, swing them around, breaking their necks, and toss them into a pile where they convulse
  • Insanitary sheds, with bodies piled up
  • Ducks panting due to stress
A worker kicks a duck in the video footage
A worker kicks a duck in the video footage (Animal Justice Project)

Andrew Knight, a veterinary professor of animal welfare, said the way the birds were handled was “frequently callous, and likely to result in severe suffering”.

“Treatment of the ducks in this video was likely to cause serious injuries and deaths, prior to which some ducks would have endured severe suffering. Examples were numerous.

“I was also concerned about the insanitary conditions evident… This is a welfare concern for these ducks, and also potentially risks the health of consumers later eating their meat.”

An RSPCA spokesperson said: “Ducks are sentient creatures and should never be treated like this. We have notified the government Animal Plant and Health Agency so they can carry out a full and independent investigation.

“We have prohibited the company from allowing the people in the footage to carry out any catches on farms that are RSPCA Assured certified.”

A Gressingham spokesperson said: “The footage is from a contract farm, with contract catching teams, that supply some of our birds. The film contains images of some working practices that are completely unacceptable to us, in particular, the handling of the birds.

“The welfare of our birds is an absolute priority and we expect all our farms to work to the highest standards of welfare and biosecurity.

“The practices shown are a very serious breach of these standards, and the farm has been suspended from our supply chain with immediate effect whilst the investigation is ongoing.”

A vet said conditions were ‘insanitary’
A vet said conditions were ‘insanitary’ (Animal Justice Project)

Red Tractor said: “We suspended the certificates of the farm and catching team, and have set specific conditions for them to return to compliance with Red Tractor standards.

“Our investigations continue, including through unannounced assessments, and we will look for evidence that these conditions have been met.”

A Waitrose spokesperson said: “We are the number one supermarket globally for animal welfare and are deeply concerned by this footage. This farm has not provided us with any duck for almost two months, and we’ve asked our supplier to immediately stop any future supply.”

A Sainsbury’s spokesperson said: “We take animal health and welfare extremely seriously and we are urgently investigating these allegations with Gressingham.”

Morrisons, Tesco and the Co-op referred to a statement by the British Retail Consortium, whose head of food and sustainability, Andrew Opie, said: “Our members take their responsibilities to animal welfare very seriously, and this footage does not meet the high standards they expect. An investigation into these claims is underway, and swift action will be taken against any breaches to the high animal welfare standards of our members.”

Byram Park Farm declined to comment.

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