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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Get the Duck Outta Here!

To commemorate my 25th year of being a vegan, I have decided to share some stories from various investigations I have done of factory farms, auctions and slaughterhouses. Though these investigations were conducted with the organization I started and ran, Viva!USA, they are a powerful part of my life and hopefully will help many understand why veganism is a key part to Food Empowerment Project’s goal of a more just food system. 

Although the investigations I conducted of ducks being raised for food in the US were not my first investigations, this seemed like a good place to start, as many ducks are eaten at the start of Chinese New Year.

Viva!USA was the sister group of Viva! in England (honestly, it was our parent group), which had been running a campaign exposing how ducks were raised for food. When they asked me to start a similar campaign, I told them that we didn’t eat ducks in the US. But then I thought, “How would I know that? I never go to the ‘meat’ section of store.” So, I went and sure enough found duck meat in every single grocery store I visited. In fact, I found that duck meat was sold year round, not just around the holidays. I decided that our campaign would focus on getting grocery stores to stop selling duck.

My first investigations took me and a friend to Southern California. There we found Pekin ducks kept in long sheds. One shed was right off the highway and so we drove the length and found it was half a mile long. Inside, the quacking of the ducks was defeaning, and ducks were visible as far as your eye could see. These birds already had their white feathers and many of their eyes looked crusty. 

(When updating our duck campaign, as we had already had an impact, we went back to this farm and it was no longer in business.

The next farm we went to had ducklings who did not even have their feathers yet. Here, it was easy to see one of the main injustices inflicted upon ducks in farms:  water was provided to them via bell drinkers or in the form of nipple drinkers – so only droplets of water would come out. Here you would see ducklings striving to put their bills and faces under a pipe with holes in it. 

Without enough water to immerse themselves, ducks cannot regulate their body temperature properly and they can go blind. Like hens in the egg industry who are debeaked, ducks also endure having the tips of their bills burned off.  This was most apparent in the Muscovy ducks, also raised for their flesh.

Just like chickens raised for food, ducks are bred to grow fast and fat. We found many ducks who had fallen backward who could not right themselves. In fact, on one farm I investigated in Ohio, there was a duckling who had his wings caught in the grate under the water. With his fragile wings in the grate, I tried to pull him out. I even took my shirt off in the shed to protect him more while I tugged (I laughed later what they must have thought if they had a camera in there), eventually I had to get my partner to go in and get him up.

Although we did not rescue that duckling from the farm (more about this type of pain in another blog), we were able to liberate some ducklings from other farms – some who had fallen over and could not stand back up, some who were stuck between the feed troughs, and even one duck whose head was turned 180 degrees and would walk backward – clearly a neurological problem. After a few hours in a bathtub, he started to get better.

We also would head out early in the morning and videotape the ducks in transport cages at the slaughterhouse. One morning, I was videotaping a duck whose leg was cut on the wires of the cage. Blood was dripping from the wound. Trying to keep my composure, I continued to videotape when all of a sudden I felt something wet and my video camera went dead. One of the ducks had pooped on me and my camera and it stopped working. My friend and I rushed to Denny’s (the only place open at 5am) and cleaned off the camera. Feeling shaky and sad, we were amused by what happened and how the ducks had stopped our work to help them! 

I have spent years with ducks – either in factory farms, slaughterhouses or transport trucks. And now, more than before, I find myself staring at these remarkable birds in ponds, just noticing how much they love water and how they swim. I think back and am amazed that grocery stores, and even animal rights groups, claimed ducks didn’t really need water (I thought their webbed feet was evidence enough) – but I guess when someone seeks to make a profit, they can and will ignore the facts.

I believe that when doing investigations of these types of farms, it is best to do so with the goal of not only informing but creating change. With our videos and photos of ducks in factory farms, we were able to get a few small natural food stores to stop selling duck meat and Trader Joe’s to stop selling all duck meat and Pier 1 Imports to stop using feathers. Again, thanks to the footage and to activists across the country who spoke out for these gentle birds.

For more on ducks raised for food and some images from these investigations:

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