Australia’s largest duck producer is being sued for misleading advertising which claimed the birds were raised in ‘open range’ farms.
Activists filmed the birds at Pepe’s Ducks, showing not only that they were crammed into metal crates, but also that some of them were covered in faeces and had their wings stuck in the metal grates, despite labelling claiming they were “grown nature’s way.”
The label also featured a duck walking across expansive land towards a pond, indicating the animals were raised in such environments.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has slammed the company for the false advertising, demanding correction notices be published and an injunction against Pepe’s Ducks using the free range labels again for the next three years.
In the writ filed in the Federal Court on Monday, it said Pepe's Ducks contravened trade laws by advertising their duck meat as ''Grown Nature's Way'' and indicating that the ducks ''were allowed to spend at least a substantial amount of their time with access to an outdoor body of water … foraging for food outdoors'', and were of better quality than barn-raised ducks when ''that was not the case''.
Animal Liberation’s Emma Hurst welcomed the suggestions from the ACCC and also called on the RSPCA to urgently investigate the welfare conditions at another leading Victorian supplier, Luv-a-Duck.
''There are equal concerns for the welfare of ducks that are kept at Luv-a-Duck,'' she said.
''We are seeing ducks on their backs, we're seeing ducks smattered with waste, and we are seeing issues such as crusty-eye, which is caused by the fact that the ducks can't dip their eyes in water, so the eye actually cakes over with dirt.
“They can't adequately clean themselves and that can lead to blindness.''
Pictures of ducks in distress, which Hurst said were taken at Luv-A-Duck's farms, should be taken seriously, she said.
But the company has hit back, saying it should be left alone because it does not claim its ducks are free-range.
The shocking conditions the animals are kept in were uncovered earlier this year when Animal Liberation sent footage to the ACCC.
Pepe's Ducks slaughters more than 70 000 birds every week and the founder was runner-up farmer of the year in the New South Wales Farmers Association in 2010.
The incident follows similar issues in the chicken industry earlier this year, when national suppliers were also accused of misleading consumers by claiming they were ‘free to roam.’
Farmers and suppliers who produce actual free range eggs called for a crackdown on the definitions of ‘free range, following the discovery of the false claims.
Image: Pepe Bonaccordo, founder of Pepe's Ducks.