Debeaking Poultry: The Need for Federal Legislation Prohibiting the Inhumane Practice

by Karen Davis

American poultry and egg producers using battery cages and crowded floor systems remove one half to two thirds of the birds' beaks to reduce "cannibalistic" pecking. Cannibalism--compulsive picking, not eating--is an abnormal behavior of domestic fowl kept in close, crowded confinement. It results from the abnormal restriction of the normal span of activities of a healthy, ranging fowl.

Debeaking ("beak trimming") has been scientifically demonstrated to cause severe pain in the sensitive beak of a bird and lifelong behavioral impairment. Between the horn and bone of the beak is a thin layer of highly sensitive soft tissue. The hot blade used in debeaking cuts through this complex horn, bone, and sensitive tissue causing severe pain and the formation of tumors in the healed beak stump. Behavioral studies show that debeaked chickens are unable to eat, drink, and preen properly, and that they exhibit behavioral disorders associated with chronic pain and depression. The 1991 review published by Dr. Michael C. Appleby on the suffering of hens in battery cages states that "The main injury caused by humans, knowingly rather than accidently, is beak trimming. It is now known to cause pain, in the short term and probably also in the long term, in a way similar to other amputations." In Britain and the Netherlands plans are currently underway to ban the debeaking of birds, described in the 1991 British Farm Animal Welfare Council Report on the Welfare of Laying Hens in Colony Systems as "a serious welfare insult to the hen . . . that should not be necessary in a well-managed system where the hens' requirements are fully met."

Beak amputation of chickens and turkeys is an inhumane substitute for the proper management of these species of birds. Debeaking is not like trimming one's fingernails. It is a serious welfare insult to birds that should be prohibited by law.

For more information see the UPC Factsheet on debeaking.

For more information contact:
United Poultry Concerns, Inc.
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150

(Debeaking Poultry: The Need for Federal Legislation Prohibiting the Inhumane Practice]