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Germany Is Outlawing One of the Egg Industry's Most Brutal Practices

Hundreds of millions of baby chicks are shredded alive every year because they're unable to lay eggs. But German scientists think they may have found a way to end the practice.
October 26, 2015, 9:00pm
Photo via Flickr user Binkley27

There are certain things you can't un-know. And since we know one of those things, and because misery loves company, we're going to share.

READ: Why 'Vegetarian' Eggs Could Actually Be a Crueler Choice

Here goes: chick disposal—actually, "shredding"—is a thing in the egg industry. In the process of bringing us the eggs we love, the egg industry faces an inevitable conundrum. What should it do with the millions of tiny male chicks that are born and cannot lay eggs themselves?

So they're disposed of. By being shredded alive.

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It's hard to be a guy chick. Other than the few who are saved to be roosters—arguably the best job in the chicken field—the other male chicks head straight for the grinder. In the US, several hundred million newly hatched fellows are killed this way each year. Make that about 50 million in Germany.

But this practice of chick disposal could become a thing of the past in Germany. Scientists and animal-rights advocates there have come up with a new technology that determines the sex of each fertilized egg before the chick develops. This will allow the egg industry to remove all eggs containing male chicks from the hatchery, leaving only the chick chicks, so to speak. According to Germany's Agriculture Minister, chick-shredding may be relegated to a distant memory by 2017 in the European nation

Are you thinking, "Well, I buy omega-3 enhanced, organic, free-range eggs"?

Whatever: the reality is that chick-shredding is a standard across all types of commercial egg farming.

The new technology works as follows. Eggs incubate for 21 days. Nine days into this period, a tiny hole is made in the egg and a small amount of fluid is extracted. A genetic test—much like amniocentesis, which is used on human fetuses to determine abnormalities—can tell whether the egg will hatch a female or male chick. If male, the egg will be discarded and used as animal feed.

Allegedly, the fetuses in nine-day-old eggs feel no pain. How scientists can determine that, we don't know. But disposing of a nine-day-old egg has to be better than shredding a live, fluffy chick, right?

As it turns out, German scientists in the agricultural field are coming up with other interesting innovations when it comes to egg-laying hens. Lohmann Animal Breeding, a "world leader in chicken genetics," announced that it had created a "dual-purpose chicken" following five years of genetic experimentation. The so-called Lohmann Dual lays 250 eggs per year and reaches a respectable five-pound slaughter weight in a mere 56 days. Male Lohmann Dual chicks therefore face a better chance growing up to become a broiler—which, we guess, in chicken world, is a fate one would seek out. Rather than being shredded in avian infancy, of course.

READ: Do Bigger Chicken Cages Do More Harm Than Good?

Will America jump on the bandwagon and find an alternative to the brutal practice of male chick disposal? We can only hope.

In the meantime, we're sorry for being the ones to scar you with this knowledge of chick-shredding, if you weren't already aware. But someone had to tell you.