Speaking up for baby chicks—and a more natural farming system

16 Jun 2016

Do you know what happens to male chicks that are unlucky enough to be born in the current industrial egg production chain? As envisaged by European Community law, they end up shredded alive or suffocated. Yes, what you have just read is true—and legal. And do you know why? It’s because male chicks constitute an exorbitant cost for the egg industry. Since they aren’t selected for meat production either, they serve no purpose and are hence eliminated.

pulciniThe news must have spread among consumers, so much that the German government has promised that, thanks to technologies that will make it possible to determine the sex of each fertilized egg, it will ban the practice starting in 2017. A promise that, if kept, would prevent the killing of more than 45 million chicks a year in Germany alone. It would now appear that United Egg Producers, the largest association of egg producers in the United States, intends to follow suit. The association, which accounts for 95% of egg production in the States, has in fact announced that it will abandon the practice of shredding male chicks by the end of 2020. How? Again by using techniques of gender determination, provided that an effective, economically sustainable solution is available by that date. As the association’s website declares, ‘We are aware that there are a number of international research initiatives underway in this area, and we encourage the development of an alternative with the goal of eliminating the culling of day old male chicks by 2020 or as soon as it is commercially available and economically feasible.’ But what if research fails to achieve the results hoped for?

In Germany the technology was expected to be available by the second half of 2016, but despite pressure from the Ministry of Agriculture, which is funding the project, the deadline seems likely to be postponed. Work on the new techniques is also being carried out in Canada (again by the producers’ association, in this case in collaboration with the McGill University of Ontario) and in The Netherlands (with research undertaken by the start-up In Ovo in collaboration with a Danish company, Senovo, supported by the four leading Dutch hatcheries).

All the proposed technologies in question are underwritten by big business, which in this way could continue to perpetuate intensive egg-laying poultry farms without the nuisance of consumers complaints over the killing of male chicks. On the one hand, we welcome the fact that this cruel practice has finally been exposed and that efforts are being made to put an end to it altogether. On the other, we still can’t say we’re happy with this type of production chain.

So what are the alternatives? It might be possible to favor dual-purpose breeds, meaning hens bred for their eggs and cockerels for their meat. True, the hens would not lay as many eggs as those selected for the production chain, nor would the cockerels grow—i.e. fatten—as fast as broilers (chickens selected for intensive farming that reach the weight demanded by the market in 35-70 days). But if the choice is between a farm in which chickens and hens are treated as machines—with all the negative consequences for their health and welfare—and a farm that is only slightly more natural, we wouldn’t hesitate in choosing the second option.

 

Source: The Guardian

For over 10 years Slow Food has been on the front line concerning meat consumption and animal welfare and, as always, acts in a variety of areas: farming methods, production and consumption.

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