The Government's own advisory body on animal welfare has undermined a ban on hen beak trimming.
The Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) has recommended the deferral of the British ban on the beak trimming of laying hens which was due to be implemented in January 2011. In a recent letter to Jim Fitzpatrick MP, the Minister for Food, Farming and Environment, FAWC advises deferring the ban with no set date for implementation.
Debeaking or 'beak-trimming' involves cutting off around a third of a chicken's beak with a red-hot blade or an infra-red beam. A serious and painful mutilation, beak trimming is used to control injurious pecking which is caused by factors such as inappropriate husbandry systems and the management or breed of the hen.
Despite FAWC admitting in their letter that the industry has already had seven years to prepare, the Council recommends that the 2011 ban be deferred to give farmers more time to adjust their methods and suggests that setting a new implementation date itself should not be "reviewed" until 2015.
Compassion in World Farming's Chief Executive, Philip Lymbery, responds: "FAWC are effectively advising leaving the issue of beak trimming open-ended. We cannot help seeing this as a way of kicking this badly needed reform into the long grass. More should have been, and must be, done."
Beak trimming a bird can be likened to cutting off our fingers; it robs the bird of the proper use of its primary way of feeling and exploring its world. As FAWC themselves put it: beak trimming is a concern because of the "trauma to the bird during the procedure; loss of a sensory tool; and loss of integrity of a living animal by the removal of part of its beak".
Recent research funded by Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) found no evidence of chronic pain from the use of infra-red beak trimming, sparking suggestion that this method should be permitted. However, the researchers point out that their study was not able to determine whether infra-red trimming causes pain in the first 10 weeks of life. A study carried out by Marchant-Forde and others (2008) shows that beak trimming does result in acute pain whether it is performed with the hot-blade or infra-red procedures.
Compassion in World Farming sees a postponement as unnecessary. When Defra banned beak trimming in 2002, they accepted the scientific argument against beak trimming. The correct way to treat the problem was to look at the reasons for the practice, which was to prevent feather pecking and cannibalism. It was accepted that improving conditions (appropriate feeding and allowing chickens opportunities to forage) and selecting breeds that are less prone to feather pecking would remove the 'need' to beak trim the birds.
FAWC do already acknowledge that "more effort should have been made by the industry to prepare for the ban by development of new strains of hen or husbandry systems, for example." Compassion in World Farming couldn't agree more.
Compassion in World Farming urges Defra to adhere to this thinking and to maintain the 2011 commencement date for the ban on beak trimming. We hope that a government that claims a high priority for animal welfare will not now reverse one of its key welfare achievements.
We need your urgent support to convince the UK Government to uphold the 2011 ban on the painful and inhumane practice of beak trimming. For the sake of millions of birds that will otherwise suffer this serious mutilation, please help us to send a strong message to government that beak trimming must become a thing of the past.