Animals: ups and downs after a year's ban on chick killing

Killing chicks has been prohibited by law in Germany since January 1, 2022.

Animals: ups and downs after a year's ban on chick killing

Killing chicks has been prohibited by law in Germany since January 1, 2022. Up to this date, almost 45 million male chicks were killed annually in German hatcheries because they could neither be used for egg production nor as fattening chickens.

"It was long overdue that the gassing of 45 million chicks per year was stopped," says a spokeswoman for the German Animal Welfare Association. Both animal rights activists and the poultry industry see a need for improvement.

Which chickens are you talking about?

It is not about meat production, i.e. fattening poultry, but exclusively about egg production. Laying hens are bred to put on meat slowly and lay lots of eggs. The male animals, their brothers, do not lay eggs, but also put on little meat. In this context, the animal protection association critically questions the entire system of high-performance breeding, both for fattening and for egg production. From an animal welfare point of view, it would make sense to turn to dual-purpose breeds, even if they do not put on as much meat or lay as many eggs as their highly specialized conspecifics. Then the problem of an economically worthless male sex would not arise in the first place.

Are all eggs now produced under the ban on killing chicks?

The ban does not apply across Europe. It is still legal to import laying hens into Germany whose brothers have been killed. This means that egg producers can circumvent the German ban on killing chicks by purchasing animals abroad. The import of eggs from abroad is also possible without restrictions.

"Especially in processed products, many eggs from production with the killing of chicks as well as eggs from cage farming are used," says Dietmar Tepe from the Association for Controlled Alternative Animal Husbandry (KAT) in Bonn. The private-sector organization, which is also supported by the German Animal Welfare Association, is best known for tracing eggs and egg products and ensuring their origin. At least for the KAT-certified eggs, it can be guaranteed that they are produced without killing any chicks, emphasizes Tepe.

Where is there now a ban on killing chicks?

According to the German Animal Welfare Association, France, Luxembourg, Italy, Austria and Switzerland have already implemented or are planning bans. Last autumn, an initiative for an EU-wide ban on chick killing was launched. Both animal rights activists and the poultry industry point to the competition-distorting effects of the inconsistent legal situation.

From the point of view of the poultry industry, why is keeping brother cocks a failure?

There is hardly any market for this meat, says the President of the Central Association of the German Poultry Industry, Friedrich-Otte Ripke. This so-called brother rooster fattening has so far been uneconomical from the point of view of the egg producers. The additional costs must be cross-financed via the selling price of the eggs. Given the currently difficult economic situation, eggs produced without chick culling have a harder time on the market than the cheaper eggs for which chicks are culled.

What do animal rights activists criticize about the brother rooster fattening?

From the point of view of the German Animal Welfare Association, there are no special regulations for the rearing of male animals, which differ significantly from broilers physically and with regard to their behavior. A spokeswoman for the association explained that the brother cocks are being raised as cheaply as possible without their needs being met.

The animal rights activists also see problems in the fact that the animals are often kept abroad - in Poland and Hungary - due to tight stall capacities, where German laws do not apply and the fate of the brother cocks cannot be pursued further. For capacity reasons, slaughtering often has to take place abroad, which puts a considerable strain on the animals.

How to determine gender before hatching in the egg?

There are different procedures. The sex distinction is based in part on the color of the feathers. For this purpose, the egg is illuminated with a strong light. Other determination systems use a method based on magnetic resonance imaging. For other procedures, a fluid sample must be taken from the egg in a minimally invasive manner. Another procedure involves opening the egg and scanning the egg membrane with a mass spectrometer.

All of these methods only give results after the 9th or 13th day of incubation. Methods that deliver results earlier are still in development and not yet ready for the market. An egg must be incubated for 21 days from the time it is laid until the chick hatches.

What do animal rights activists criticize about gender determination in the egg?

It cannot be ruled out that chicks feel pain from the 7th day of incubation, according to the Animal Welfare Association. Since all currently existing methods only deliver results after the 7th day of incubation, gender determination in the egg is not a solution that is in line with animal welfare. Tightening is to come into force next year and egg selection will be banned from the 7th day of incubation.