The slaughter of male chicks, much talk and few facts

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The slaughter of male chicks from broods destined to become laying hens, so-called sexing, continues unabated. On the animal welfare front – again, as in European animal welfare policy more generally – much talk is followed by little action.

The only ones to move in Europe are Coop Suisse and Coop Italia, which have excluded this practice from their own branded egg supply chains. As well as the governments of France and Germany, which are heralding the ban.

Sexing, a practice to be banned

About 6 billion male chicks are killed globally each year shortly after birth because they are unsuitable for industrial production. In addition to not producing eggs, they fatten slowly enough to be uneconomical in breeding.

Elimination occurs everywhere by shredding or suffocation with gas or CO2. Although more gory, the former mode reduces suffering to one second, while asphyxiation involves up to two minutes of agony, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (UK). That is, if the operation is done according to the rules.

Efsa’s opinion

In Scientific Opinion 26.9.19 on methods of killing poultry for purposes other than slaughter, EFSA clarifies the standard and points out possible inefficiencies that could cause further unnecessary suffering to animals. (1)

Reg. EC 1099/09 concerning the protection of animals during culling, recall, allows killing by chopping only for chicks up to 72 hours after hatching and for egg embryos. Provided that such practice:

– involves maceration and instant death of chicks and embryos (closed eggs),

– be performed only with devices equipped with mechanically operated, fast-rotating blades. Of sufficient capacity to ensure instant killing of all chicks, even if treated in large numbers,

– ends with the transformation of animals into a material where body parts (internal organs, legs, wings and heads) are not recognizable.

France, the promised ban

Pressure from European animal rights activists against sexing is beginning to make inroads into national policies and agribusiness market players. But the breakthrough is still far off.

In France, current practices for sexing chicks will be banned by 2021 as part of animal welfare reforms announced in early 2020 by Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume.

Shredding of live chicks has been prohibited in Switzerland since 1.1.20. Instead, their killing with CO2 remains permissible.

Germany caught between rulings and dumping risk

In Germany, the passing of sexing by 2021 was announced by the industry on a voluntary basis after rejection in 2016 by parliament. The purpose is to identify the gender of the chick at the embryonic stage and divert males to feed, without waiting for them to be born. A selective technique is already created by startup Seleggt, but the timeframe for its implementation by the entire national production appears long and indefinite.

Federal Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner, lamenting the sluggishness of the German industry, then announced a law banning the slaughter of chicks. But industrialists dismiss this assumption as unacceptable. An isolated choice by Germany alone, they say, would force domestic incubator enterprises for egg production to move elsewhere. While Germany would continue to grow imported hens from abroad, where sexing is still allowed instead. Regulatory dumping, according to German industrialists.

The sexing of the chicks even ended up in court. On 9.6.20, the German Federal Administrative Court ruled that it is permissible until a concrete alternative is available. The lawsuit had been brought in 2013 by two companies against the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, which had banned the slaughter of chicks by decree. (3)

Coops on the side of the chicks

Amid much talk, the only initiatives against sexation are those promoted by two long-standing cooperative systems:

Coop Italy, as part of the ‘Let’s raise health’ campaign, on 4.4.19 launched ‘
Let’s save the male chick
‘. Through an agreement with Coop-branded egg suppliers, male chicks are raised instead of being killed as soon as they are hatched,

– In turn, Coop Switzerland has selected a breed of chickens that allows for both egg and meat production. The costs are higher, but consumAtors sensitive to animal welfare have been able to adhere to this choice.

Notes

(1) EFSA, Killing for purposes other than slaughter: poultry. 26.9.19. doi: 10.2903/j.efsa.2019.5850 https://efsa.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.2903/j.efsa.2019.5850

(2) Reg. EC 1099/09 on the protection of animals during slaughter. Consolidated text as of 12/14/19 at https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/IT/TXT/?qid=1594998017205&uri=CELEX%3A32009R1099

(3) BBC News, German court rules mass-killing of male chicks legal . 13.6.19 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-48620884

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Professional journalist since January 1995, he has worked for newspapers (Il Messaggero, Paese Sera, La Stampa) and periodicals (NumeroUno, Il Salvagente). She is the author of journalistic surveys on food, she has published the book "Reading labels to know what we eat".