A significant problem in the egg industry is, well, males. There’s no way to guarantee that chicks will be hens, and thus egg layers, which means the industry is engaged in a truly berserk amount of male chick slaughter. This has been acknowledged as an animal welfare issue for decades, but now Germany will become the first country to officially ban the practice of culling.
Several billion chicks are culled each year in the egg industry worldwide; the methods for doing so are very upsetting. In the European Union, there exists regulations with the current ones dating to 2009. They guide how best to do this culling, with an eye toward minimizing suffering. But both there and in the United States, that effort hasn’t really succeeded.
Members of the German and French government announced this summer their intention to ban mass culling of male chicks by the end of 2021. Germany, with the passing of a new bill, has hit that mark, and the ban will commence at the beginning of 2022, assuming the bill passes the lower house of German Parliament.
Of course, a central issue is that there will still be male chicks— hundreds of thousands of them in each of these countries. Germany and France are both investing in tools that allow for the sex of chickens to be ascertained while still in the egg. It would allow culling to occur before hatching, which is generally considered a much less cruel practice. This is called in-ovo sexing, and though there are a few other possibilities for how to eliminate culling, Europe seems to be running with this one.
For farmers in the egg industry, the concern remains that even with assistance and equipment from the government, the new process may require more time and expenses to produce eggs, stunting their ability to compete in the market. Germany and France are working with several other EU countries to make this an EU-wide practice, which would eliminate some of that competitive disadvantage.
Among those other options is gene editing, which scientists have only this week figured out how to use to breed single-sex mice. This technique, which can create a female-only litter, also doesn’t seem to necessarily result in loss. The mice actually ended up with litters about two-thirds the size of their normal mixed-sex litters. There’s a ton more research and work to be done, but we are seeing some large movement toward ending the practice of culling chicks.