Not just egg-laying hens, but also cattle and pigs. The latest news from Germany on animal welfare and livestock farming’s impact on the environment bodes well for the future…
The most important concerns a practice widespread on egg-laying hen farms about which, for obvious reasons, the industry tends not to speak and consumers are relatively uninformed. On factory farms, hens are crammed into cages, often never see the light of day, and have their beaks amputated to prevent them harming each other. This is the general routine for female chicks, while males (one bird out of two, half the chicks born into the egg industry) are often shredded alive or suffocated in plastic bags, in compliance with European law. The fact is that male chicks are an unsustainable cost for farms and, insofar as they have no commercial value, don’t lay eggs and aren’t the right breed to be raised for meat, they are treated as waste.
In Germany, where 45 million chicks are slaughtered every year, a new technology has been developed to determine a chick’s sex just nine days into an egg’s incubation period, a practice that poses fewer ethical dilemmas than that of shredding. In this way the eggs that would become male chicks can be removed from incubators and used to produce animal feed, thereby avoiding the birth of millions of chicks that would only live for a few hours.
If, as Minister of Agriculture Christian Schmidt is advising, the new control system is made compulsory by 2017, Germany would become the first country in the world to ban the practice of shredding male chicks. It is Slow Food’s hope that Germany’s decision will open the way for the abolition of the practice and that other European countries will follow its example.
Not that Germany’s activation of good livestock breeding practices ends here. An article published by the daily Die Welt about cattle and pig feed policy in Bavaria reports, in fact, that imports from Latin America of often genetically modified soybeans for the production of industrial feed have dropped significantly over the last four years, from 800,000 tons a year to 560,000.
The reason for this is partly due to the fact that the Land has implemented a National Protein Initiative incentivizing the use of “alternative” crops to produce feed. Thus, in the same four-year period, the area of land in Bavaria given over to the cultivation of alfalfa, fava beans and peas has increased by 74% to 32,000 hectares.
Slowly but surely, things are changing, even though a great deal still has to be done to improve EU Member States’ animal welfare strategies.
by Jacopo Ghione e Silvia Ceriani