Shoppers urged to buy white eggs because they come from less-aggressive hens to end cruel practice of beak trimming
- Hens laying brown eggs have their beaks trimmed unlike those laying white eggs
- Breeds that lay brown eggs are typically more aggressive towards each other
- This means their beaks are trimmed to stop them pecking others as adults
For decades, British shoppers have preferred brown eggs to white in the mistaken belief they are a healthier option.
But now farmers are urging consumers to make a switch to reduce animal cruelty.
While there is no nutritional difference between the two types of egg, the farming of brown ones requires hens to have their beaks trimmed with an infrared laser beam, which is said to be painful.
The Government wants to stamp out the controversial practice – but farmers say they are only responding to demand.
Farmers are urging consumers to buy white coloured eggs instead of brown ones
‘If consumers were to eat white eggs then it would help with animal welfare and give farmers the confidence to farm hens which have not had the infrared treatment,’ said Robert Gooch of The British Free Range Egg Producers Association.
Variation in egg colour depends on the breed that lays them. Broadly speaking white-feathered hens lay white eggs and brown-feathered hens lay brown ones, although the colour of the earlobe is a more reliable indicator.
Dark-earlobed breeds that produce brown eggs, such as the Lohmann brown, are typically more aggressive, so have their beaks blunted when they are day-old chicks to stop them pecking each other as adults. They have been known to peck each other to death to establish their hierarchy and are even prone to cannibalism.
Mr Gooch said white eggs used to be the norm in Britain but shoppers switched to brown in the 1970s under the misconception that they are more ‘rustic’ or ‘natural’.
The Government describes the blunting of beaks as a ‘mutilation’ while Compassion In World Farming claims it can cause long-term pain and prevent birds from displaying natural behaviour such as foraging. Its chief policy adviser Peter Stevenson said: ‘It would be so good for animal welfare if consumers went to work on a white egg. If consumers say this is what we want, the market tends to respond.’
This is because chickens laying brown eggs have their beaks trimmed after hatching – as they tend to be more aggressive than their white egg laying counterparts
The beak trimming process is said to be painful for the birds as day old chicks
Currently, Britain’s £944 million-a-year egg industry produces 11 billion brown eggs but just 45 million white eggs, less than 0.5 per cent of the market. John Kirkpatrick, Tesco agriculture manager, told The National Farmers’ Union conference last month that he could see the benefits of white eggs, but added: ‘The challenge keeps coming back to the customer.’
Farmer Tim Bradley, from Bourne, Lincolnshire, who has a flock of 8,000 white-feathered birds, said: ‘I would love to sell my white eggs to supermarkets but there is no demand at the moment so my eggs are sold to processors.
‘White birds are more docile and like their own space and they just do not peck each other’s feathers as much as brown birds.’
He said that white birds were also better for the environment because they eat less grain, so less crop needs to be grown to feed them.
White eggs are the norm in many parts of the world, including the United States, with 93 per cent of the market, and India, with 92 per cent. The Netherlands has made the switch from predominantly brown eggs to white ones in recent years, and industry sources said it would take the UK about 18 months to build up enough white hens to meet Britain’s demand for eggs.
Organic egg laying brown chickens on a farm in Cheshire, England
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published a policy document last month which suggested farmers could be paid to stop using hens that have had their beaks ‘mutilated’.
But Richard Jackson, vice-president of The British Veterinary Poultry Association, said: ‘It would be too much of a generalisation to say white-feathered hens are always docile.’
Other measures to help prevent birds pecking each other include having smaller flocks and plenty of materials for foraging.
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