Chick Culling: Baby Animals Gassed, Ground Up Alive

The egg industry doesn’t want you to know its dark secret: that it is responsible for suffocating or grinding up thousands of fully conscious baby animals every day simply because they’re not profitable.

The mass killing of freshly hatched chicks—also known as “chick culling”—has nothing to do with recent outbreaks of bird flu or increasing egg prices. In fact, chick culling has been around since egg factory farms came into existence. 

Here’s everything you need to know about chick culling and how you can take a stand against the cruel massacre of chicks.

Why does the egg industry kill so many baby chicks?

Male chickens can’t lay eggs, and chickens in the egg industry are not the breed used in commercial meat production. Therefore, the egg industry sees male chicks as worthless and kills them. More than 260 million male chicks are killed shortly after hatching each year in the United States alone. 

Gassed or Ground Up While Fully Conscious

One of the most common methods of chick culling in the U.S. egg industry is maceration. 

Workers first separate the chicks by sex. During this process, chicks are typically roughly handled and many are injured, as undercover footage has shown. Males are then placed on a conveyor belt that drops them into a “macerator,” a machine that shreds the animals alive—all while they’re fully conscious and able to experience pain and fear. Other methods of killing chicks include gassing, which causes prolonged deaths and distress, and “cervical dislocation” (i.e., breaking their necks).

Despite being cruel, these methods of mass killing are 100 percent legal and standard practice in the United States. Nearly all major egg producers in the country kill male chicks or get their eggs from hatcheries that do.

What about “humane” farms?

Most people would never consider shredding a live animal—let alone thousands of baby animals a day—to be “humane.” Despite this, even egg companies with an American Humane certification and those that market their eggs as “humane,” “free range,” or “cage-free” all have chick culling as part of their supply chain. 

What’s the alternative?

Around the world, scientists are working on alternatives to chick culling. “In-ovo sexing” is one technology, which enables egg producers to determine the sex of an embryo before it develops into a chick. Through in-ovo sexing, the egg and male embryo can be destroyed at an early stage of development, before the onset of pain perception.

And in December 2022, scientists from the U.S.-Israeli tech company Huminn said they had successfully created gene-edited hens who produce only female offspring. But these hens haven’t yet been used for commercial egg production.

Where has chick culling been banned?  

France, Germany, and Austria were the first countries to commit to banning chick culling, and Italy passed a ban that will go into full effect by the end of 2026. While these bans are a great step in the right direction, they have some significant exceptions.

Egg producers in France use in-ovo sexing, but they were granted permission to continue killing male white-hen chicks—more than 10 percent of male chicks hatched in France every year—because their sex can’t be determined using the technology. Furthermore, in France and Austria, chick culling is still allowed in the production of companion animal food. And none of the culling bans apply to baby ducks or geese. 

What can we do to help baby chickens? 

About 34,000 male chicks are needlessly killed every hour in the U.S. egg industry. The females go on to endure miserable lives in cramped cages or overcrowded, filthy sheds and be used as egg-producing machines. We all have the power to take a stand against this cruelty.

The best way to help animals in the egg industry is to reduce or eliminate our consumption of eggs and products that contain eggs. Nowadays, many delicious plant-based egg products on the market mimic the taste, texture, and cooking experience of chicken eggs. There are also countless ways to replace eggs in baking and other recipes.  

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