France, Germany to end male layer chick culling

France has joined Germany on a new initiative to end the practice of culling of male chicks from the table egg flock at the end of 2021.

(Roy Graber)
(Roy Graber)

The agriculture ministers of France and Germany jointly announced the formation of a consortium to end the practice of culling male day-old chicks of the laying flock.

The ban is due to come into force at the end of next year. In the meantime, the consortium — which includes poultry industry organizations, researchers, and companies — will work together to develop one or more alternative practical and economic solutions to the issue of unwanted male birds.

Currently, there is no proven method of determining the sex of chicken embryos while in the shell. After hatching, male birds are removed and culled humanely, usually by maceration, at the hatchery. Increasingly, consumers and animal welfare organizations have been pressuring the sector to find alternative ways to approach this issue that deliver benefits in terms of animal well-being.

An earlier deadline for the elimination of male chick culling in Germany was overturned last year. A high court ruled that the practice could continue until an effective and practical alternative method becomes available.

Around 90 million male chicks are dispatched each year in France and Germany alone, according to the French agriculture ministry. From the point of view of animal protection, this practice is unacceptable, and does not meet the expectations of consumers and animal welfare organizations, it says.

Agreed in Berlin earlier this month, the Franco-German agreement formalizes a bilateral partnership between the two countries formed in October of last year. It provides a framework for 2020 and 2021, bringing together research, innovation, and industrial developments.

The initiative was taken by agriculture ministers Julia Klöckner of Germany, and France’s Didier Guillaume.

With the involvement of all concerned, it will be possible to abolish the practice of killing chicks as soon as possible, according to the German federal agriculture ministry. The European Commission has been asked to support the project, and European Union (EU) member states are being encouraged to join the initiative.

Male chicks: an alternative solution in the UK

Representing the sector in the United Kingdom (UK), the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) says it is committed to eliminating the disposal of male day-old chicks. It has welcomed a German project that allows the sexing of embryos before hatching, and an initiative in Canada that uses camera technology to sex hatching eggs before incubation.

Currently in the U.K., BEIC says the disposal of male chicks is carried out quickly, painlessly and humanely. On hatching, chicks are immediately segregated into the male and female sexes by feather color identification. As they are not suitable for meat production, male chicks from egg-laying breeds are used as a valuable source of food for other species such as reptiles and birds of prey. Demand from zoos and private owners for male chicks is such that approximately 30% of the chicks required are imported from other countries.

BEIC says maceration is not used by pullet hatcheries in the UK for disposal of live male chicks although it is a legally approved method of disposal of chicks, and is widely used in other countries.

In the U.K., disposal of male chicks is carried out by exposure to argon, which is quick and painless, following a Code of Practice approved by the Humane Slaughter Association and monitored by the government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency. However, macerators are used in the U.K. for the disposal of unhatched (hatching) eggs. Indeed it is a legal requirement for hatcheries to have this equipment for this purpose, according to the BEIC.

This month, the European Reference Centre for the welfare of poultry in the EU is scheduled to start operations.

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