hens alive chicken

The government will not ban the controversial trimming of hens’ beaks despite criticism from animal welfare campaigners.

Farming minister George Eustice said this week he fully accepted the recommendations of an action group of retailers, the poultry industry, vets and government.

The group’s concluded a ban from January 2016 on using infra-red technology to trim beaks was too risky as farmers were not ready.

It also called for better techniques to be introduced across the laying hen industry to stop birds pecking the feathers of others in the flock.

Farmers welcomed the move, saying the ban would have come too soon.

Gary Ford, National Farmers Union chief poultry adviser, said it would keep working with welfare groups and Defra to work towards an industry that does not rely on beak trimming.

“The NFU supports and is actively involved in ongoing industry work to better understand what the trigger points are that cause injurious feather pecking,” he said.

Eustice revealed the decision in response to a written question from backbench MP James Cartlidge.

The government had previously promised to ban all beak trimming from next year, even though the poultry industry warned the move could threaten bird welfare.

The use of a hot blade to trim layer hen beaks has been illegal in the UK since 2010, with the infra-red technique only allowed on day-old birds.

Peter Stevenson, chief policy advisor at Compassion in World Farming, said he was so disappointed by the decision he had chosen to leave the cross-industry Beak Trimming Action Group after more than a decade.

He said the review’s recommendations were weak and there was no legislation to make farmers quickly improve how they managed their flocks.

The government should have introduced a ban with a start date decided by the secretary of state, he added.

“There is no legislation and no underpinning,” Stevenson said.