The UK Government is planning to drop its own ban on the debeaking of laying hens, according to a Parliamentary answer by Animal Welfare Minister, Jim Fitzpatrick MP. This is the clearest signal yet that Government promises on animal welfare are likely to be broken. And underlines our need to step up the pressure to ensure that the ban, due to enter into force in under a year's time, is not written out of the statute books.
In answer to the question of whether it remains government policy to introduce the ban in 2011, the Minister replied that a consultation will be issued shortly on the proposal to "remove the total ban on beak trimming, to allow for routine beak trimming of day old chicks intended for laying to be done using the infra-red technique". The Minister suggested that this was necessary until it can be demonstrated that hens can be managed commercially without the mutilation.
This is a clear case of the Government ignoring the very scientific and practical evidence that it used when agreeing the ban in 2002. It also ignores the lead taken by other countries, notably in Sweden, Norway and Finland, where debeaking has already been banned successfully. In Austria too, the majority of laying hens are kept cage-free and debeaking, often called "beak trimming", is ruled out by the country's major certification schemes. You can read more in our latest report marshalling the latest evidence in favor of the ban going ahead.
Debeaking (or 'beak-trimming' as it is often referred to) involves cutting off a part of the bird's beak with a red-hot blade or an infra-red beam. It is a serious mutilation used to control feather pecking caused by factors such as inappropriate husbandry systems, management or strain of hen.
It looks like the UK Government has swallowed assertions that debeaking using infra-red is somehow better. This is despite evidence that removing part of a bird's beak with an infra-red beam results in acute pain. It also causes the bird to show reduced growth rate, to eat less, to show more fearfulness and to avoid pecking more than birds debeaked using a hot blade. All of this suggests, as you'd expect, that debeaking is a traumatic experience – and yes, there is evidence that infra-red debeaking causes long term pain too.
It really is time to show the Government that back-tracking on animal welfare is far from acceptable.