Welfare Group Wants Beak-Trimming Ban as Scheduled

UK - Defra is consider to postpone the forthcoming beak trimming ban even though new case studies prove laying hen systems can phase out this mutilation, according to Compassion in World Farming (CIWF).
calendar icon 15 October 2010
clock icon 4 minute read

A ban on the beak trimming of hens is due to come into force on 1 January 2011 but CIWF understands that Defra is considering a postponement.

The organisation strongly believes that this ban should not be postponed. However, if there is a postponement, it is essential that a new commencement date must be set.

Beak trimming is a process by which up to one-third of a chick's beak is cut using either a hot blade or exposed to infra-red. Research suggests that either process causes acute pain and can also cause long-term pain.

Beak trimming is carried out to prevent feather pecking and injurious pecking (which includes vent pecking and cannibalism) which can lead to very poor welfare and mortality amongst birds. However, beak trimming deals with the symptoms, not the causes of this serious problem. Injurious pecking occurs when health and welfare are compromised, whether by poor breed, poor rearing, poor nutrition or the lack of environmental requirements such as foraging opportunities or high perches.

In the context of the possible postponement of the ban, CIWF has conducted detailed case studies of laying hen systems in the UK and Austria which have phased out, or are successfully phasing out, beak trimming without any increase in feather pecking or injurious pecking. These studies show that, with good stakeholder involvement, proper incentives and good extension services, beak trimming can be avoided without increased feather pecking or injurious pecking by such measures as good rearing, suitable breed, high protein nutrition with phased feeding and the provision of aerial perches. In free-range systems, good foraging opportunities are also very helpful.

The Austrian example even showed a reduction in feather pecking and injurious pecking by the end of the phase-out programme. In contrast to the usual image of Austrian production mostly being in small free-range farms, the bulk of their production is carried out without beak trimming and with low levels of injurious pecking in large scale aviary systems set up in the last five years.

The chief scientific advisor to the Austrian programme to phase out beak trimming, Professor Knut Niebuhr of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, said: "The Austrian programme involved the co-operation of a range of stakeholders including rearing companies, laying hen farmers and their associations, feed mills and veterinarians, advisory bodies and universities. Losses due to injurious pecking were reduced at the same time as the practice of beak trimming was reduced to less than two per cent of farms. This shows that a programme to avoid the need for beak trimming through adjustments to rearing, nutrition, health and husbandry, along with appropriate environments and breed, can be good for production as well as bird welfare."

In the UK, Columbian Blacktail hen production carried out by Stonegate for Waitrose has used similar means to reduce levels of beak trimming to 15 per cent without an increase in levels of feather pecking or cannibalism.

CIWF is calling on the government to maintain the proposed ban or, at the very least, to ensure that a new commencement date is set.

Philip Lymbery, Chief Executive of Compassion in World Farming, said: "The British farming industry should be learning from the experience of Austrian and UK colleagues to develop and implement a strategy to end beak trimming without injurious pecking. We now have tangible examples of how to keep hens in a positive state of health and welfare without painfully mutilating their beaks."

The case studies are available from CIWF [click here].

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