Dutch ag minister speeds up debeaking ban

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  July-August 2013:

DEN HAAG––Asked by the Dutch Party for Animals to expedite a ban on trimming the beaks of egg-laying hens,  originally to take effect in 2021,  Dutch agriculture minister Sharon Dijksma in June 2013 reset the deadline to September 2018.

“The ban will be introduced gradually,”  reported World Poultry.  In addition,  World Poultry said,  “As from 2015,  the practice of removing spurs from roosters bred for meat and used in vaccine production will be forbidden as well as cutting the combs of brown roosters,”  used to breed laying hens.

Dijksma said she would ask the European Union to ban beak-trimming and spur removal continent-wide.  But Dijksma acknowledged that banning beak-trimming is problematic from an animal welfare perspective,  because of the tendency of hens bred for maximal egg production to peck each other to death.  Increased cannibalistic pecking was an accidental outcome of breeding for productivity that has proved difficult to eliminated.

Cramped battery cages,  once thought to be a factor in causing cannibalistic pecking,  were banned throughout the EU since January 1,  2012.  Moving hens into either open-floor housing or colony caging,  however,  has not reduced cannibalistic pecking.

Piter Bijma of  Wageningen University & Research Center is optimistic that cannibalistic pecking can mostly be bred out of egg-laying hens,  if not necessarily by 2018.  “We are certainly making progress.  When we began our experiment,  there was a 30% dropout rate due to mortality,”  Bijma told Albert Sikkema of the Wageningen University online magazine Resource.  “This rate went down to 15% in the fourth generation.  However,”  Bijma cautioned,  there are diminishing returns.  As mortality goes down,  further improvement becomes more difficult to achieve.  Our chickens are kept in a Canadian battery system,”  Bijma stipulated,  “while [most] chickens in the Netherlands are currently kept in large flocks.  The death rate there can go up further.   We cannot bring the mortality rate down to zero with breeding solutions alone,”  Bijma added.  “Innovations in other areas,  such as housing,  are  just as important.”

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