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Germany to ban culling of day old male chicks next year

German Agriculture Minister Julia Klockner has announced that the culling of day old male chicks will be outlawed from next year.

Speaking to mark the start of Germany’s International Green Week, Ms Klockner said the Cabinet had signed a draft law prohibiting the mass culling of day old male chicks, making the country the first in the world to do so. She said the move was a significant step forward for animal welfare: “This is unfortunately in practice everywhere in the world. But I do not consider this to be ethically acceptable. Therefore, we will be the first country to ban chick culling by law.”

After sexing the male siblings of the layers are gassed or culled, but with new techniques this can be prevented. Photo: Ton Kastermans
After sexing the male siblings of the layers are gassed or culled, but with new techniques this can be prevented. Photo: Ton Kastermans

Farmers will be required to use technology to prevent male chicks from being born in the first place, by identifying the sex of the animal before it has hatched. From 2024, the draft law will also require poultry famers to use methods that work at an earlier stage in the incubation process, preventing pain for the unhatched embryos. At present, about 45 million male chicks are culled in Germany every year as they are neither suitable for meat production nor for the layer industry.

Draft legislation

The draft legislation comes 2 years after Germany’s Federal Administrative Court ruled that animal welfare concerns outweighed the economic interest of farmers, saying the practice should only continue for a transitional period. The German Poultry Association said the plans were only a “partial solution to the problem”, claiming they would also lead to “immense competitive disadvantages,” according to the Agence France-Presse.

Sex reassignment in the egg
Israeli start-up Soos has developed a technique to alter the sex of embryos from male to female in the hatchery and thus tackle the culling of male chicks.

The association is concerned that the law will not apply elsewhere in Europe, although the French agriculture minister Didier Guillaume has said the practice will be banned in France from the end of 2021 and Switzerland has already banned the shredding of live chicks but still allows gassing. Germany consumer advocacy group Foodwatch said far more work was needed to change the “unbearable suffering of laying hens.” The EU currently allows shredding as long as it causes immediate death for chicks less than 72 hours old.

Novel techniques

Currently, a number of companies are looking at overcoming the culling of day old male chicks. Respeggt GmbH, headquartered in both the Netherlands and Germany, say they are now able to avoid chick culling by using 2 different processes:

  • Gender identification in the hatching egg
  • Fattening of male layer chicks

The Respeggt “no kill” eggs are now sold in leading retailers in Europe, including Carrefour, Rewe, Edeka, Penny and Jumbo. And Israeli-based start-up firm eggXYt claims it can sex eggs on day zero in a non-invasive, cost-effective and accurate way.