Victory or Loss? – Culling of Male Chicks to End by 2020

You may have heard the news that the practice of chick culling (gassing or grinding up day old male chicks) may be stopped, or at least be phased out by 95% of US farms, by the year 2020 which sounds like a major step forward, but is it as good as we think?

Why are male chicks culled?

Chicks are bred by hatcheries and sorted by sex before the females are sent to farmers for a life (of around 80 weeks) producing eggs for human consumption. However, the male chicks are economically useless since they are bred to be small framed unlike muscular meat chickens, and this means the hatcheries must dispose of millions of day old chicks by grinding them alive or gassing them. This is largely kept quiet by egg companies since it poses an unbelievable ethical issue, and letting people know the truth behind egg production would obviously be bad for business.

*Warning this video contains footage that is upsetting, but I do recommend watching if you don’t know the truth behind the egg industry.*

So how is this going to be stopped?

New technologies and procedures have been discovered that can determine the sex of chicks before they are hatched, which could effectively end the culling of male chicks since they would never be allowed to hatch. By placing a fluorescent protein gene onto the male chromosome via micro-injection into a male chick embryo, the genetically modified birds can then be bred so that when the females lay their eggs. The male embryos could then be identified by a laser that picks up the fluoro mark, a process called ovo-sexing. Eggs containing female chicks would be incubated, hatched and sent to egg farms, whilst eggs containing male chicks would not be incubated, instead being used for vaccine research and pet food.

But how is this problematic?

Taken at face value this seems like a winning situation. However, we know that taking things at face value is never a wise thing to do, and examining the situation further reveals numerous worrying implications. I’m not arguing that stopping the culling of male chicks is bad, after all countless lives could be saved and horrific pain avoided, all I’m saying is that as intelligent, rational thinkers we need to consider what the effects of this discovery will be before we count it as a victory.

The first and most obvious issue is the fact that the egg industry will be very much alive, and indeed will be better off because of these discoveries. Workers and machines that sort and kill the male chicks will be replaced by laser identifiers and money will be saved. This of course means that the suffering of egg laying female hens will continue.

Secondly, the ethical problems of culling male chicks faced by egg producers will no longer be present, allowing both producers and consumers to forget about the suffering and pain that remain within the industry. Eggs will be considered ethical products since the methods used to produce them would not include gassing or grinding up day old chicks. As a way of convincing people that veganism is the only compassionate way of life, this could actually be considered a big step backwards, since non-vegans would consider the egg industry less problematic.

male chicks - battery hens

The suffering of egg laying hens would continue regardless

Not to mention the fact this method of identifying male chicks is reliant on genetic modification, altering the genetic makeup of the male line to produce modified young. This is a major concern for many consumers, but the details regarding genetic modification seem to be mysteriously left unsaid by many media outlets covering the story.

What should we think?

Personally I believe that we cannot completely dismiss this as a loss, since massive pain and suffering can be avoided. HOWEVER, this should be considered simply as a step towards the dismantling of egg production companies and the movement away from the consumption of eggs. We can’t celebrate yet, but we are moving in the right direction.

But what do you think, should we consider this a victory, or is this just a way for egg companies to justify their practices and keep consumers on their side? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.

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Featured Image: ‘chick‘ by apsande is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Battery Hens: ‘Industrial-Chicken-Coop‘ by איתמר ק. via Wikimedia Commons.

Featured Video: Undercover Investigation at Hy-Line Hatchery by mercyforanimals

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