While getting laying hens out of cages into cage-free environments is a step that greatly reduces suffering, their suffering in cage-free systems is still severe. One important indicator is the necessity for searing (“trimming”) their beaks: The hens are so stressed that they develop behavioral disorders. As a result, feather pecking and cannibalism occur. To make sure that these behavioral disorders do not lead to high mortality rates, the tips of the laying hens’ beaks are cut off. This procedure is painful in the short term and also in the long run. It does not stop the behavioral disorders but it makes sure that mortality rates stay low: seared beaks hardly cause wounds. We are campaigning for an end to beak searing and for keeping and feeding hens in a way that does not let behavioral disorders occur.
In 2010, we laid the groundwork to ending beak trimming in Germany by publishing a paper about how beak trimming was ended in Austria and sending it to some of the most important decision makers in the egg industry, the retail sector, and politics. After an initial backlash, over time the position was adopted that an end to beak searing is possible in Germany. In 2014, the federal state of Lower Saxony announced that it will outlaw beak searing by the end of 2016. In 2015 and 2016, basically all other decision makers such as the German Agriculture Minister and the egg industry agreed to end the practice by 2016/2017. 65 million hens are set to benefit from this (non-German suppliers – especially in the Netherlands – who are selling to German retailers have to end beak searing as well).
We documented the current state of research regarding debeaking in a 19-page paper in 2016. In this paper, we described the measures necessary for ensuring that laying hens do not develop behavioral disorders, thereby helping to prevent feather-pecking and cannibalism. Without these measures, the only option available to keepers of laying hens is to dim the barns as soon as any problems occur. However, a life in darkness entails a whole new set of animal welfare problems. In 2017, we conducted talks with the food retailing industry in particular about how the latest research findings can be put into practice. We are also running a campaign for what we call “a proper end to beak searing”.