The British ban on debeaking of laying hens, due to be implemented in January 2011, has been undermined by the Government’s own advisory body, the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC). A recent FAWC letter advises the Minister to defer the ban with no set date for implementation.
Debeaking (or ‘beak-trimming’ as it is often referred) involves cutting off a chunk of the bird’s beak with a red-hot blade or a laser beam. It is a serious mutilation used to control injurious pecking caused by factors such as inappropriate husbandry systems, management or strain of hen.
In its letter, FAWC recommended that the 2011 ban be deferred. Why? To give farmers more time to adjust their methods. Yet the same FAWC letter admits that the industry has already had seven years to prepare. “More effort should have been made by the industry to prepare for the ban” says FAWC. Compassion couldn’t agree more. By developing “new strains of hen or husbandry systems, for example”, says FAWC. Again, couldn’t agree more. Yet, instead of being clear that more should have been and must be done, FAWC’s advice, if accepted, would effectively leave things open-ended.
FAWC has not only recommended the ban be deferred, but that setting a new implementation date itself should not be “reviewed” until 2015. I cannot help seeing this as a way of kicking this badly needed reform into the long grass.
Debeaking 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 itself puts it, debeaking 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”.
As we discussed in a recent posting, research shows debeaking to be redundant when strains of birds are selected who are less prone to feather pecking and cannibalism and kept in humane conditions.
Given the lamentable lack of action from industry in response to new legislation, surely more pressure should be applied in readiness for the impending reform? After all, the Government’s decision to ban the serious mutilation of debeaking was supported by science.
I sympathise with those in the farming community looking for clear direction. If FAWC’s advice is accepted, then both farmers and animal welfare will be badly let down. What is needed is strong, decisive leadership that sets a date for reform and does what is necessary to see it through. If, and only if, producers need more time to adjust (and Compassion remains unconvinced that they do), then a specific date should be set now that will give clarity on the future and concentrate minds on the task. It cannot be acceptable for urgently needed animal welfare reforms to be undermined by the inaction of a few.
Strong leadership and animal welfare require the ban on debeaking to go ahead. For the sake of millions of birds that will otherwise suffer this serious mutilation, please help us send a strong message to government that debeaking must become a thing of the past. Act now by lobbying the UK government with this eCard.