George Eustice says ‘No’ to beak trimming ban

Farm minister George Eustice has decided not to implement a ban on beak trimming next year, but has called for improved management techniques to reduce feather pecking.

In answer to a written question from South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge in Westminster today (26 November), Mr Eustice said he was accepting all of the recommendations recently submitted by the pan-industry Beak Trimming Action Group.

See also: Video explains infrared beak trimming

“The group advised that the risks of introducing a ban on infra-red beak trimming are too great,” said Mr Eustice.

“It could result in outbreaks of severe feather pecking and having to employ emergency beak trimming using the hot blade method, which is a far worse outcome from an animal welfare perspective.

“However, the Btag report also identified improved management techniques that could reduce feather pecking. The government expects to see these techniques introduced across the laying hen sector.”

These techniques were put to the test in trials on 20 non-beak trimmed flocks by Bristol University in 2014-15, and the findings are included in the review submitted by Btag earlier this month, together with other research findings.

In particular, the Bristol report found that, by 71 weeks, only 12 of flocks achieved acceptable levels of mortality (ie less than 9%).

The group therefore recommended that “a ban on beak trimming of laying hens should not be introduced in 2016, as on the basis of practical experience and available research, it could be detrimental to overall welfare in an unacceptable number of laying hens”.

It is understood that Compassion in World Farming, one of the 30 organisations involved in Btag, did not support this recommendation, calling for a ban in 2016.

Mr Eustice’s decision has been welcomed by the industry. British Egg Industry Council chief executive Mark Williams described it as “excellent news”, and just reward for the entire industry lobbying effort.

“We have always said that we would rather not have to beak trim, but we use IRBT to protect hen welfare, rather than face the hen welfare risks from not doing so.

“BEIC is committed to continuing the progress made to further reduce injurious feather pecking, to the point where beak trimming is not necessary in the future. But we are not there yet.”