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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates
|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 8th December 2010|
Publications on the internet
General Committee Debates
Delegated Legislation Committee Debates
Draft Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2010
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Eliot Wilson, Emma Graham, Committee Clerk s
† attended the Committee
As you are well aware, Mr Dobbin, the Government are committed to improved standards of animal welfare. Indeed, animal welfare forms part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs structural reform plan. The regulations remove the ban on beak trimming of laying hens, due to come in on 1 January 2011. That will allow the routine beak trimming of day-old chicks intended for laying to be carried out using the infrared technique, with other methods restricted to emergency use only.
Having done the formal bit, I want to say that this is a very difficult issue. I and, I suspect, virtually every other member of the Committee would like to see an end to the routine beak trimming of hens for any purposes, but we are between the devil and the deep blue sea, because we are dealing with animal welfare and considering, as I shall try to explain, what is the least worst option. The issue has generated much interest in the House. There were a very large number of signatures to early-day motion 260, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Peter Bottomley). As a result, I provided last month a written statement to the House setting out the background to the regulations when I laid them. That explained our determination to work closely with the industry, with the objective of making a ban on beak trimming possible in 2016. Indeed, the word “possible” is probably not quite strong enough; we intend it to happen then.
As the Committee will know, the current position is that the UK makes use of a derogation in EU Council directive 1999/74/EC on the welfare of laying hens, which allows for beak trimming of laying hens that are less than 10 days old if it is carried out by qualified staff. The procedure is permitted only to prevent feather pecking and cannibalism, which is a common but unpredictable behaviour in commercial flocks of laying hens and is a significant welfare issue. The Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) (England) Regulations 2007 implement that derogation but allow routine beak trimming
The ban was put in place when the laying hens directive was implemented in the United Kingdom in 2002. That allowed eight years for the development of a strategy to manage birds without the need to beak trim. The beak trimming action group, comprising representatives of the industry, welfare groups, DEFRA and the scientific and veterinary professions, was established to develop that strategy, but, frankly, progress on the control of injurious pecking in England has not been sufficient for a ban on beak trimming to be implemented without causing a significant risk to animal welfare. In the meantime, a new infrared technique was developed and is now used to beak trim birds commercially, as an alternative to hot blading. The infrared technique is now used on 95% of all beak-trimmed laying hens. It is fair to say that the advent of infrared beak trimming has probably lessened the sense of urgency about finding a solution to the problem.
In any event, the Farm Animal Welfare Council reviewed the evidence in 2007 and 2009 and recommended that the ban on beak trimming should be deferred until it can be demonstrated reliably under commercial conditions that laying hens can be managed without beak trimming without there being a greater risk to their welfare than that caused by beak trimming itself. That is the dilemma I was trying to identify. The FAWC recommended that infrared beak treatment should be the only method used routinely, as its evidence indicated that that method does not induce chronic pain.
I would like to emphasise that the Government’s long-term goal is to ban routine beak trimming—there is no question about that—but FAWC’s advice represents a sensible and pragmatic approach in the circumstances. A ban on beak trimming for laying hens at the current time would result in significant welfare problems through outbreaks of feather pecking and cannibalism. It is therefore right for legislation to be amended to remove the impending ban, which would otherwise come into force on 1 January 2011.
I want to emphasise that, contrary to some people’s perception or beliefs, the issue is not to do with battery cages. In fact, feather pecking can be far worse on free ranges than in battery cages. Once we ban the conventional battery cage on 1 January 2012 and move to all birds being in enriched cages, colonies or barns, or on free ranges, the issue of feather pecking could get worse, rather than better. We need to understand that.
We see the proposed removal of the ban as very much an interim solution. The previous Government were aware of the issue and they consulted on a proposal to amend the legislation. They did not propose any date to review the policy or for a future ban, but this Government have taken heed of the strength of feeling on the issue and we have decided to adopt the FAWC’s recommendation of setting a review date of 2015. We will assess the output of the work, with the objective of banning routine beak trimming in 2016.
I am sure the Committee will appreciate that if we do not go ahead with reversing the ban today, we will damage the British industry severely, because it would have only three weeks to adapt and that could lead to an increase in the importation of eggs from other countries,
Mr Paice: What I propose, Mr Dobbin—[ Interruption ]—or Mr Walker, is that the beak trimming action group will reconvene and I will attend its first meeting in January. We are committed to working with the group to find solutions to this complex issue. The group will establish an action plan to include the key milestones that I laid out in the written statement, leading up to a full review of beak trimming in 2015. That review will consider the results of ongoing research projects that are investigating practical and realistic ways of rearing laying hens without the need for beak trimming. Bristol university, for example, funded by the Tubney Trust, is carrying out a three-year intervention study. It is developing and trialling an advisory package to help producers reduce the risk of injurious pecking through changes to housing and husbandry. All the key stakeholder groups are on the steering group for the project—with representatives from industry, welfare organisations, researchers, economists and DEFRA—and the beak trimming action group will begin considering the outputs of the study next summer.
We must recognise that any future strategy will have to identify the lessons that can be learned from countries where there is already a ban in place, or that just do not normally beak-trim, such as Austria, Sweden and Switzerland. I have asked the industry to undertake study tours of countries that do not beak-trim. I understand that they tend to use a different breed of chicken that is much less productive but also less prone to feather pecking, which perhaps creates the opportunity for more work in genetics.
Feather pecking, as I said earlier, is greatest in management systems that do not house birds in cages. A review in 2015 will allow producers time to increase their experience of managing flocks in alternative systems. That review will also assess achievements in the elimination of beak trimming to date, and will advise whether a ban on routine beak trimming of laying hens will achieve the maximum welfare outcome, with a view to reinstating the ban in 2016.
These regulations will improve existing welfare standards for laying hens in the short term, while we work hard to find a lasting solution that will bring an end to the need for routine beak trimming. They also complete the implementation of Council directive 2007/43/EC by implementing the mutilations provisions for meat chickens. I hope the Committee will understand that we are proposing a sensible and prudent way forward. We are determined that beak trimming should end. I am wholly persuaded, as I hope the Committee is, that to continue with the ban in three weeks’ time would be counter-productive and would worsen the animal welfare issue. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I want to ask a number of questions on the detail of the regulations before I come to the general points. Paragraph (1) of regulation 5, which defines the beak trimming of poultry, suggests:
The Minister cited research suggesting that infrared technology involves less pain—that there is no chronic pain. Has he seen the report, written by Heather Pickett MSc and submitted by Compassion in World Farming, which refers to a range of research that contests those conclusions about the lack of chronic pain? In fact, it suggests that even the method of infrared trimming involves acute pain, which has wider implications for bird welfare in terms of the long-term traumatic effects. It refers to the Glatz and Hinch report on research in 2008 that found that
“infra-red beak trimming at day-old resulted in the formation and retention into adulthood of traumatic neuromas; these are swollen entangled nerve masses which have been implicated in causing chronic pain after beak trimming.”
In other words, where there is an emergency, any methodology can be used. It would be useful to know the definition of an emergency, but I cannot find one in the regulations or in previous legislation. Regulation 5(6) refers to “conventionally reared meat chickens”, which are defined in regulation 2(2). That definition applies where there are fewer than 500 such chickens. What is the methodology in establishments with more than 500? Is it to be the infrared chip procedure, or another method? The regulation does not specify.
On the points of detail, the regulations lack clarity and provide a wide range of opportunities for interventions that are not controlled—such as infrared technology and certainly the emergency procedures set out in the regulations—in establishments of varying sizes. I do not believe that the regulations will have the effect of minimising pain to birds that the Minister is hoping for.
On the general point, I understand the Minister’s argument about the ban coming into force in three weeks, but we have known about the ban since 2002, so the industry has had eight or nine years to prepare. In most other sectors of British industry, when we have introduced legislative controls—for example, on carbon emissions in motor vehicles—they have been able to adapt or introduce new procedures in an extremely limited period to enable them to abide by legislation. There have been eight or nine years in which to prepare, but little advancement has been made. To approach us within three weeks of the ban’s being implemented
What worries me is that instead of setting a tight time scale for the industry to introduce measures to enable it to comply, the Government are suggesting that the compliance timetable be put back to 2016. I am used to legislative ideas being pushed into the long grass, but here they are being pushed back into the near forest. There is no prospect that a regulation that is to be reviewed in 2015, with the possibility of legislation taking effect in 2016, will send a message to the industry that the Government are in any way serious about eradicating beak trimming.
Alternatives are not lacking. The Minister has identified countries where beak trimming has been eradicated, and reports have been presented time after time, not just by Compassion in World Farming but by others, outlining the alternatives. The matter has been debated time and again in the House, and it is straightforward. First, appropriate strains and selective breeding should be used to reduce hens’ propensity to feather peck, with good design of non-cage systems and implementation of a range of preventive management practices.
When the issue was debated way back in 2002, many of us believed that that was the route the various advisory committees and the Government would eventually proceed down in order to eliminate beak trimming altogether. There seems to have been no progress in seriously examining those alternatives or their implementation. Whatever the Minister has announced, I understand that there will be more ministerial tourism to Austria, Sweden and Switzerland to look at examples. That has already occurred, and many examples and practical alternatives have been identified, yet there has been no real implementation of them.
Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the best alternative is a cage, and that the Department probably finds itself between the devil and the deep blue sea—or, more accurately, between an infrared beam and a cage? It would be far better to agree to the procedure in the light of welfare concerns, and to ensure that a £20 billion industry, at which this country is exceedingly good, is protected.
John McDonnell: No, I do not accept that, and I do not believe that the argument is between the devil and the deep blue sea, which is what the Minister started to argue. I believe that cages inflict suffering on birds, but there are opportunities in free range and other methods of caring for birds that avoid pecking and cannibalism, and that was the point of the debate in 2002. The Minister himself outlined some of those ideas—about the strain of bird used, the development of such strains, and good design of non-cage systems and implementation of a range of preventive management practices. That is what we were promised several years ago, but it has not happened.
John McDonnell: That is exactly not what I said. I said that it is not a choice between caged and free range, caged and cannibalism. I was saying that caged birds suffer, and that is why we are trying to eliminate cages. Making birds free range also runs the risk of pecking and cannibalism. However, there are methods, which we were promised would be explored over the past eight years, including the development of alternative strains that we know have worked in other countries, and management systems to be used at the same time, which have worked in Austria, Switzerland and Sweden. Why can they not operate in this country? That is the point we are making. Our anxiety is that for eight years we were promised that that would be explored, but it did not happen in a satisfactory way.
John McDonnell: I am suggesting that we should examine, as was promised in 2002, what other countries have done successfully. That means management practices and breeding practices and the development of alternative strains. It has been done elsewhere in Europe; why can we not do it here?
Had there been some progress on that, the Minister could have reported back today that we will be able to eliminate beak trimming within a limited period. That is not the case. The matter has been put back to a review in 2015, with the possibility—no more than the possibility—of elimination in 2016. We would not tolerate that in any other sector of industry, particularly where suffering was caused.
The regulations before the Committee today do not go far enough. They are an appeasement mechanism for the industry. If we appease the sector, we will be back in the same situation in 2015 and will be told that there are only three weeks before a ban comes into force—and we will allow another five years. Things will roll on and on. In the mean time, we shall be inflicting suffering on the birds over the years.
I understand the Minister’s dilemma, because it was one the previous Government had to deal with. The official position of the Opposition will not be to oppose the draft regulations in Committee. However, I have some questions for the Minister.
First, I completely respect the sincerely held views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington. Indeed, research published a couple of years ago by the university of Glasgow—which is in not my constituency but that of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin)—stated that even with the use of the infrared beak trimming procedure, trauma is still caused. It is the
Will the Minister be making representations to his EU counterparts? The provision that permits beak trimming comes, of course, from a derogation from Council directive 2007/43. There are three countries that do not beak trim, as he said: Sweden, Finland and Austria. Do the Government intend to build alliances so that the derogation can in due course be removed across the EU? As he says, we should not address this problem solely in the United Kingdom and leave the egg industry at a huge competitive disadvantage. The best way of dealing with it would be to try to build an alliance across the EU to remove the derogation and introduce a ban on beak trimming across the EU. Before we reach that happy day, however, we perhaps have to address the position in the United Kingdom, and I want to put some questions to the Minister about the research that DEFRA’s beak trimming action group might commission.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington alluded to the fact that producers who have banned beak trimming in Switzerland, Austria and some Scandinavian countries manage larger flocks of laying hens. Some of the commissioned research has raised doubts because of the size of those flocks compared with flocks in the UK. My hon. Friend also referred to the fact that there is a stronger emphasis on the choice of strains and genetic selection in those countries. Furthermore, research commissioned and evaluated by the university of Glasgow and others points out that they use smaller groups in animal husbandry systems. What factors, therefore, will the Minister ask the action group to look at when commissioning further research from other countries and, indeed, from Norway and Switzerland, which do not engage in the beak trimming of laying hens?
We welcome the ban in the draft regulations on beak trimming with a knife or other sharp implement. As the Glasgow research and other university research has indicated, that was by far the most inhumane practice, and we welcome the fact that it will cease, should the regulations come into force.
On the wider issue, I accept that the previous Government may have had difficulty in getting the industry to prepare to comply with the purported ban. Can the Minister at least give us an assurance that the Government’s presumption will be to introduce a ban in January 2016 and that that will be the default position? Can he assure us that it will be for the industry to show that there were supervening problems, if such a ban were not to come into being?
As many hon. Members will know, this issue is close to the hearts of many of our constituents. There can be few Members of the House who have not had letters, phone calls or e-mails about it. Many millions of people care deeply about it. We urge the Government to show leadership at home, and indeed in the EU, to ensure that this practice can be banned in 2016 and banned across the EU.
Let me first address the comments by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington. Towards the end of his address, he asked why we are here and why we do not just implement the ban as required before the regulations are approved. I cannot defend what has or has not happened over the past eight years, and I am entirely sympathetic to his view that the industry should have done more. As I said in my opening remarks, I suspect that the advent of the new technique of infrared trimming, as opposed to hot-blade or knife trimming, took some pressure off the industry. It believed, perhaps mistakenly, that that would remove the issue.
However, the fact is that we are where we are. I cannot undo the last eight years, and we have to decide which is the least bad option for the welfare of chickens—beak trimming or allowing feather pecking and the cannibalism that goes with it to become far more rife. While the hon. Gentleman is right that the countries he referred to do not practise beak trimming, we cannot just lift their systems and put them in place in three weeks’ time. That is the harsh reality in which we find ourselves. We only have that short period of time. He chided the Government for that but, as he appreciates, we are a new Government. As the hon. Member for Glasgow North East and I have said, the previous Government began to consult and proposed exactly what we are proposing—namely, that we should not implement the ban. The difference, as I said, is that we are adding a date of 2015 for a review and 2016 for the ban to be put in place. The answer to the question of why should believe it this time, which, I think, is the gist of the argument made by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington, is simply that I intend to make it happen.
In answer to the hon. Member for Glasgow North East, 2016 is the default position. We are not putting it in the regulations, but I have made it absolutely clear— I spoke at the egg producers conference a few weeks ago and made it clear, so it is on public record—that the Government expect beak trimming to be banned in 2016. We expect the study group to deliver on that. They have to look at what is happening in other countries. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, they practice other systems: they have much smaller flocks that are predominantly managed in smaller groups; and they tend to use different breeds of chickens to lay eggs. The reality, however, is that they are small countries in terms of population, and they do not need to produce the large numbers of eggs that we do, which is one reason why our chickens tend to be in much larger units and, therefore, not so easily adapted. Those are the issues that the study group must address.
John McDonnell: It would be better if the Minister, rather than saying that he “expects”, said that the ban “will” be implemented in 2016. However, how have we arrived at an estimate that the industry will be ready within five years? Why not 12 months? Why not 24 months? Why have we arrived at five years when eight or nine years have not been satisfactory so far?
I entirely agree with the sentiment expressed by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington that we want beak trimming to stop, but I have to be practical about when it can be stopped, given that we clearly do not want to start importing all our eggs from other countries, because we have imposed a cost presumption against our own industry. The hon. Gentleman can go on about 2002 and the eight years, but perhaps he should—I will not be too partisan—address that concern to his hon. Friends who were in office at the time for not sitting on the backs of the industry more toughly.
I want to turn to some of the specific points that the hon. Gentleman has made. He asked about the establishments with under 350 birds. They will be covered, because all farm animals are covered by the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which his Government introduced and which my party strongly supported. We have an introduced a de minimis provision, partly to avoid burdensome levels of regulation, but also because issues of flock size, as we have been describing, are relevant. He has mentioned meat chickens, and I need to emphasise the fact that meat chickens are not beak-trimmed. We have to cover that in the regulations, but nobody beak-trims their broilers, as we effectively call them, as we discussed last week. Occasionally, what are called broiler breeders, which are the parent stock for the meat chickens, are beak-trimmed, but that is rare.
Mr Paice: The answer is yes. We are adamant that the infrared system is the only acceptable system for routine beak trimming. The hon. Gentleman asked about emergencies. We do not define emergency in the legislation, but it is widely recognised that one would arise if there were a serious outbreak of cannibalism or feather pecking in an existing flock that had not been beak trimmed. That situation tends not to arise at the moment, so it is difficult to be too precise about it. We would then be talking about beak trimming adult or semi-adult birds, not day-olds. Nobody will willingly undertake that unless a massive emergency arises, because the logistics of doing so would be quite significant.
Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): Given the Minister’s comments, can he confirm that we are talking about a tiny fraction of birds that could come under those emergency provisions, and that therefore in effect the statutory instrument outlaws the beak trimming of hens with a blade?
Mr Paice: The answer to my hon. Friend is entirely yes. This is such a minority of cases that it tends not to happen, but we believe that the facility should be in the legislation; otherwise somebody faced, for whatever
The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington has referred to research. It is human nature in this place for us to grab whatever research seems to support our argument, and MPs can always find some research that does so. I think it is true to say, however, that the research carried out at Glasgow, to which the hon. Member for Glasgow North East and I have both referred, demonstrated that the researchers believe infrared was the least painful method. I have said in my opening speech that we accept that it does cause pain. We do not believe that it causes chronic pain; the research at Glasgow demonstrated that even if neuromas are present, they are not functioning. That was a more robust study than the Glatz and Hinch study, to which the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington has referred.
On the subject of information from Compassion in World Farming, I have read its papers and I regularly have meetings with Peter Stevenson. I think that we have a lot of mutual respect for each other. The hon. Gentleman refrained from mentioning that Peter Stevenson has written on record that this Government are doing more on the subject than the previous Government did, and that he welcomes the approach that the Government are taking.
Turning to the points made by the hon. Member for Glasgow North East, we have not pressed for the removal of the EU derogation, but there is no reason why we should not look at it; I quite agree. If the hon. Gentleman does not already know, he will soon learn that trying to reopen EU regulations or directives is not the easiest task, but I agree entirely with his suggestion that we should take it right across the European Union.The hon. Gentleman asked about the research that the study group may commission. I do not want to pre-empt that; the group knows what research is available and what is currently being carried out, and if it believes that more needs to be commissioned, that will be up to the group. I do not want to instruct it in any way, other than to specify what the outcome must be. By 2015, the Farm Animal Welfare Council should advise the Government and Ministers that a ban should be introduced in 2016. That is what the outcome must be, and the group must decide on its own research. He is right that there are different systems and strains in other countries, and we must take that on board, but as I said in Committee last week, I must always be minded to accept the advice of the Farm Animal Welfare Council wherever possible. In addition, we must ensure that we do not disadvantage our own industry on the basis of an argument that does not improve welfare in the long term but simply exports the problem to other countries with lower welfare standards.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked, I suspect rhetorically, whether the Government would provide any assistance with the cost to the industry. I think that he knows the
|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 8th December 2010|