This ask report considers preventing practices of mutilation on factory farms.
There are many types of mutilating practices which are commonplace on factory farms. This report focuses on the consequences of the beak trimming of layer hens, turkeys and broilers; toe cutting amongst turkeys and broilers; and the desnooding of turkeys. Trying to reduce these practices can seem like an intuitive way to increase the welfare of these animals. This is backed up by evidence suggesting that some of these practices give chronic pain to the animals involved. For example, there is some research suggesting that debeaking may cause hens serious pain and discomfort for up to 35% of their time alive.
However, there are also reasons to be sceptical of this intervention’s effectiveness. For example, in farms where the conditions are poor, some mutilations can have positive effects, such as toe cutting preventing aggressive scratching behaviour. This scepticism is strengthened by an uncertainty on how to read data such as decreased activity in de-beaked birds.
Our preliminary research seems to suggest that this is not a very promising intervention, only giving between 2.5 and 5 welfare points to the animals involved. Overall, we expect preventing mutilations to be in the least promising third of asks.
This report considers more deeply the positives of the intervention, and the reasons to be sceptical of its capacity for large welfare improvements.
Our priority ask reports are focused on what are the particular improvements or changes that can be “asked” for from corporations, governments, or individuals. Going cage free, making dietary changes, regulating slaughter practices, and many other asks all serve as examples here. They are compared based on the strength of the idea (including the evidence base and estimated cost-effectiveness), limiting factors, execution difficulty, and externalities. All of these factors together could begin to suggest which asks might be the most effective when combined with a priority animal, country, and approach. However, these ask reports are short summaries of longer unpublished reports and, therefore, even if an ask looks promising this does not necessarily suggest that it will end up being a promising charity once paired with other elements and cross-compared to the other strongest possible charities. It just suggests that it is worth further and deeper investigation from our team. You can see our full planned research process here.
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