Egg industry grinds millions of baby chicks alive



A "sexer" working at Hy-Line in Iowa separates out male from female chicks, tossing males down the chute to be macerated or ground up alive/
Copyright (c) 2009 Mercy for Animals

Sometimes you see something that makes your jaw drop and stuns you into silence, which is quickly followed by outrage. When I watched this Youtube video, I had that experience. Everyone who eats eggs should know about this and watch this video (also below). It’s not bloody or gory, but shows a bunch of very adorable fuzzy chicks dropping into a machine that the narrator explains grinds them up alive. Warning: It is probably hard for most people to watch this and not cringe.

Here’s the scoop. Someone from the Chicago-based nonprofit Mercy for Animals went undercover to work for Hy-Line’s Iowa egg factory for two weeks and secretly recorded video. The most ghoulish scene involves baby chicks moving down a conveyer belt, where workers separate out the males and toss them into a chute where they are ground up alive in a meat grinder or macerator. The video itself only shows one meaty chick at the opposite end of the grinder, but the narrator says he saw bloody pulp coming from it. The industry euphemistically calls it “instantaneous euthanasia” and get this - this is not unusual. It’s apparently legal and widely used in the egg production industry. Even with cage-free eggs.

Apparently, this happens to an estimated 200 million male chicks per year, industry-wide, with Hy-Line alone producing 33.4 million chicks per year according to their website. After the Associated Press got hold of the video, Hy-Line confirmed that “instantaneous euthanasia” of male chicks is industry standard, and said it’s “supported by the animal veterinary and scientific community” including the American Veterinary Medical Association (their guidelines on euthanasia here).

Hy-Line confirmed the video shows violations of its own animal rights policy, though the grinding is legal and they say, the most “instantaneous” way of killing the chicks. (Certainly it is not the most humane). The ground-up baby chicks apparently go into dog food or fertilizer. The male chicks serve no purpose to egg companies - alive - because they don’t lay eggs, and don’t grow fast enough to be sold for meat.

I’m confounded at how the public could not have known about this. Mercy for Animals’ Executive Director, Nathan Runkle, questioned in a news conference in Des Moines: would it be acceptable if it were puppies or kitties?

On Mercy for Animals website they list statements from four experts about the practice. Dr. Karen Davis, the founder and president of United Poultry Concerns, says, "Given that the nervous system of a chicken originates during the 21st hour of incubation, and that a chick has a fully developed nervous system at the time of hatching, it is reasonable to conclude, as a fact of neurophysiology, that the chicks are suffering extreme pain as they are being cut up by macerator blades."

Female chicks don’t escape pain and suffering. They go to the debeaking machine, which burns off the beak with a laser to prevent hens from pecking one another. In a normal life, the chicks would be sheltered and comforted by their mother’s wings for the first part of their life. The video shows the chicks hanging by their beak from the machine as they squirm and flail about.

It certainly makes a person think twice about eggs. I pay $1 or more per carton extra for cage-free eggs but according to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Tails of the City blog, the Humane Society of the United States said even companies selling cage-free eggs engage in “instantaneous euthanasia.”  In grocery stores, only eggs “certified Humane” come from companies that don’t kill baby chicks or debeak, though they can still trim beaks to prevent cannibalism. One can also find local individuals who raise and sell eggs, though the practice is unregulated. Mercy for Animals promotes veganism.

After all this egg talk, curiosity got the better of me and I researched cage-free egg production conditions overall. Turn out, a journalist from the Arizona Republic compared a regular egg farm to one that sells cage-free eggs, and found the cage-free conditions worse. The chickens ran around in their own feces, and the chickens pecked one another and had lost feathers around their neck as they fought to establish pecking order. This was just two specific farms, but I may have to research and write more about this in the future.

Mercy for Animals sent letters to 50 of the nation’s largest grocery chains asking them to put the following label on eggs: "Warning: Male chicks are ground-up alive by the egg industry." Somehow I don’t think that will happen voluntarily, but regardless, it seems to me that all consumers should know about this standard industry practice.

We got dolphin-safe tuna several years back because of public pressure and boycotts, and I believe that if people care about this, they can also demand the industry engage in humane egg production.

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