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Last minute chance to change beak trimming law

News Section Icon Published 13/12/2010

Late last week we had some exciting news - that there has been an unexpected opportunity to influence the new law on beak trimming of egg laying hens.

The Government is in the final stages of removing the ban on beak trimming, which had been due to come into force in January 2011 following an eight-year phase out period. The legislation that removes the ban does not give a firm date for it to be banned in the future, risking yet more delays. But now, thanks to MPs speaking out, this law will be going to a vote in the House of Commons this Wednesday 15th December.

Taking a stand

During a House of Commons Committee debate last week about the proposed changes to the ban on beak trimming, Labour MP John McDonnell took a stand for the welfare of egg laying hens.

Not only did he raise many excellent points, but he challenged the Government's plans to remove the 2011 ban with only a promise to review the situation in 2015 with a view to reinstating the ban in 2016.

  • Beak trimming is used to control harmful pecking caused by factors such as the environment that the hens live in, their breed, and the management of their day to day needs.
  • Beak trimming involves cutting off around a third of a chick's beak with an infra-red beam, which can leave hens in chronic pain.
  • Scientific research and industry practice show that the correct way to prevent harmful pecking is to develop an integrated programme to improve welfare including appropriate breeds, environments and management together with good rearing and feeding programmes. Birds need to have good opportunities to forage and ground-peck.

Undercover Investigation at HY-Line Hatchery

This film contains images which may distress.

Hidden camera footage was obtained by Mercy For Animals at HY-Line International in Spencer, Iowa.

The last chance

John McDonnell, and Labour MPs Sheila Gilmore and Mary Glindon, all voted 'no' when asked whether the new legislation on beak trimming should be passed. Now there will be another vote on Wednesday 15th December. Last week the new legislation was considered by a Committee of MPs. The vote on the 15th will be open to all MPs.

MPs can only vote 'yes' or 'no' to the legislation as a whole, rather than make comments on details such as dates. But, if a sufficient number of MPs vote 'no' it will force the Government to review the legislation; and, we hope, agree to a firm new commencement date for the ban being included in the legislation.

Industry delays

Although we welcome the fact that the Government has set out a detailed timetable for achievement of a 2016 ban, we fear that the lack of a solid date to work towards could mean longer delays before we see real change. Even with a legally binding date of Jan 2011 for the original ban, and a generous eight years to prepare, it seems that the egg industry showed little motivation to make the necessary improvements to hen welfare. As a result of this lack of preparation, the 2011 ban will be removed.

Peter Stevenson, Compassion's Chief Policy Adviser stated:

"We are delighted that John McDonnell MP has insisted that the beak trimming ban should be voted on by all MPs. We urge MPs to reject the Government's legislation, which removes the ban on beak trimming without setting any new commencement date for it. If the ban is going to be postponed, it's vital that a new legally binding date is set for it to come into force. Around 20 million chicks are beak-trimmed each year in the UK. This painful mutilation must be brought to an end as soon as possible."


  • 2002 - Beak trimming banned with 8 year phase-out period. Ban due to come into force on 1 January 2011
  • Early 2010 - Threat to 2011 ban from industry pressure
  • November 2010 - DEFRA announces removal of the ban (the previous government had also said they would remove the ban)
  • 2015 - Ban to be reviewed
  • 2016 - Government's 'target date' for the ban, but this is not law

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