A little-known fact about the egg industry is that suppliers destroy almost half of their chickens within hours of being born. Males are effectively useless, so for years they’ve just been “culled” en masse, to use the industry’s technical term. Acceptable disposal methods include snapping their necks or even suffocating them in bags, but the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends investing in a good industrial-strength macerator, so hatcheries have traditionally fed baby males into a wood chipper, more or less.
But that’s about to change: In a landmark win for animal-rights activists, United Egg Producers, the group representing 95 percent of the country’s eggs, has announced it will quit culling male chicks at hatcheries that supply egg producers. As soon as an alternative is “commercially available” — the group’s guess is by 2020 — its producers will abandon the practice.
The group says there are “a number” of alternatives being explored, but the most hopeful right now is something called “in-ovo egg sexing,” a procedure that can determine the sex of the embryo while it’s still inside the egg. The practice of culling is difficult to stomach, but the business rationale isn’t hard to understand: Male chicks born to hen suppliers aren’t going to lay eggs, and they’re not useful as meat either, because broiler chickens are bred to be grotesquely large in size. But alternatives like in-ovo sexing would allow producers to more humanely abort male eggs rather than waiting till the chicks hatch, at which point it’s a rather gruesome demise.
The Humane League, which negotiated the agreement, celebrated the news, noting that “United Egg Producer’s decision to support the elimination of newborn male chick culling is a historic tipping point and will prevent the suffering of hundreds of millions of animals each year.”