DEFRA has accepted an industry recommendation that it is not ready to put in a formal target for ending beak treatment in laying hens.
The Laying Hen Welfare Forum (LHWF) is a group of farmers, academics, veterinarians and other representatives ultimately tasked with finding ways to end the practice.
It must also report to ministers every two years to outline progress towards this goal.
The LHWF submitted its latest letter outlining progress at the end of August, and the minister of state responsible, Lord Goldsmith, has now responded.
A Defra spokesperson said that, while the government was committed to ending the practice “as soon as possible”, it accepted it was not currently possible.
“This can only be done safely once the industry shows real progress in reducing pecking injuries amongst commercial flocks.
“We welcome the Laying Hen Welfare Forum’s comprehensive update on the progress being made, including the outcome of Defra-funded trials.”
The report submitted by the LHWF is a 28-page document and describes the work that the group has done over the past two years to explore ways to manage birds – potentially without beak treatment.
An EIP Grant-funded trial on 29 farms worked at introducing Feather Cover Action Plans – bespoke measures designed to improve feather cover.
Study visits also took place looking at European countries that have introduced beak treatment bans.
And the group explored improvements in genetics, nutritional strategies and veterinary updates.
Over the past two years, there has also been significant knowledge transfer and education beyond the group to offer producers tools and strategies that can help with feather cover.
The LHWF ultimately recommended that the UK sector – structured as it is as a brown bird market with a majority of birds in free-range systems – was not ready to end infra-red beak treatment.
LHWF chairman Andrew Joret concluded in his letter: “As it remains our primary consideration to continue to safeguard the welfare of laying hens at all times, we are not yet in a position to provide you with a date when we believe we can cease beak treatment without the very real possibility that bird welfare would suffer and the associated reputational damage that would follow, although we continue to make progress toward this.”