Pepe’s Ducks, which sells its products at the monthly Blackheath Growers Markets, is in the firing line of a petition being circulated around the town.
The petition calls on the market organisers to ban the company because, it says, it uses factory farming techniques, deprives the ducks of water to wash or swim in, keeps them indoors their entire lives and breeds them so quickly it places pressure on their legs and thighs.
One of the locals behind the petition, long-time Blackheath resident Jo Tibbitts, told the Gazette she believed the market was supposed to provide local, small producers with a place to sell their high quality and more expensive produce.
“Anyone can go to a supermarket to get a Pepe’s duck. Why would people want to go to a growers market, if they can buy the same or similar mass produced product (cheaper) at a supermarket or butcher?
“The growers market should not be selling any factory-farmed produce in keeping with the community’s expectation that the growers market food is free range and approaching organic.”
She said some people who had signed the petition had been “appalled at the way the ducks are treated. Ducks are kept inside in barns and fed water in drips — not allowed to wash their faces or swim.”
But Polly Fenick, from Black Castle Events which organises the markets, said she had addressed welfare concerns some time ago. She had excluded Pepe’s from the markets for three months while she conducted her own audit of their operations and had visited five different farms.
“I took a few people and we were happy. If I saw these birds stressed do you think I would have them there?”
Ms Fenick said she had been contacted by Animal Liberation and felt “bullied” by them.
Emma Hurst from Animal Liberation, who helped with the drafting of the petition, denied any bullying claims, saying she had spoken to a range of organisations about Pepe’s Ducks.
“It isn’t an issue obviously of bullying. We are not targeting her specifically. We have had meetings with Coles and Woolies. It isn’t a targeted campaign specifically to them, we are looking at everybody.”
She also said the cruel practices were often not apparent to an untrained eye.
“It’s hard to know as a novice what’s going on... It wasn’t until I spoke to an avian specialist who pointed out the ducks struggling to walk, growing in wrong proportions and with conjunctivitis that I knew,” she said.
Pepe’s Ducks CEO, John Houston, said he was unaware of the petition but said the company had “a passion for our animals”.
He recalled meeting Ms Fenick some time ago.
“We actually took her to several farms to give her an up-front view of what we did. She couldn’t see anything wrong with what we are doing,” he said.