French egg industry backs chick culling ban, calls for EU-wide extension

For France's five hatcheries, the first cost will come with the purchase of new equipment and the reorganisation of their respective hatcheries, which according to CNPO would cost about €15 million for each. [Gokhan KIRCA/Shutterstock]

After French Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie announced a ban on the crushing of male chicks, questions arose as to how feasible such a move would be, particularly regarding the cost and adopted technique. EURACTIV France reports.

By 1 January 2022, all French hatcheries must be equipped with or have ordered the machines needed to carry out so-called “in-ovo sexing”, a technique used to determine the sex of future chicks in the egg in order to destroy male chicks before they hatch.

The announcement was welcomed by animal rights NGO CIWF France, who pointed out that citizens and animal protection associations have strongly criticising the practice of killing male chicks for years.

But changing practices is easier said than done, especially as the sexing technique has not yet been developed in France, meaning it will probably have to choose from already existing methods from abroad.

German-Dutch company Seleggt, German group AAT and German tech group Plantegg have all been hard at work in developing in-ovo sexing techniques, which enables them to determine the chick’s sex, either by analysing the egg’s fluid or the colour of feathers inside the egg.

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France and Germany are now calling on other EU countries to follow their lead in banning the controversial practice of culling male chicks, which both countries pledged to end from January 2022. EURACTIV France and EURACTIV Germany report.

Heavy costs

But all these technologies would come at a cost.

“Today, when you buy a laying hen chick, it costs 80 cents, including the cost of eliminating male chicks,” Philippe Juven, president of the national committee for the promotion of eggs (CNPO), told EURACTIV. “With the ovo-sexing service, each chick will cost about one euro more,” he added.

For France’s five hatcheries, the first cost will come with the purchase of new equipment and the reorganisation of their respective hatcheries, which according to CNPO would cost about €15 million for each.

On top of that, hatcheries will have to pay for the continuous operation of new techniques. In particular, the in-ovo sexing services, which for the time being will have to be outsourced to those companies with the necessary know-how.

The country’s agriculture ministry is “not advocating one technology over another”, a ministry spokesperson said. “It is up to the professionals to equip themselves with the technology or sexing machines that they feel are best suited to their activity and their markets.”

But CNPO’s Juven confirmed that “we will look for the most economical method”, despite the industry evaluating yearly costs for in-ovo sexing to be no less than €64 million.

The extra cost will have to be borne by consumers, with the price for a carton of six eggs expected to increase by at least three euro cents, the sector has said.

While this price hike is not really a concern for supermarkets – where most of the eggs sold today are French – it could prove dangerous for French egg producers selling their produce to the industrial and catering sectors, which may look to import cheaper eggs from countries where such a rule does not exist, Juven explained.

France and Germany’s proposal for an EU-wide ban on the culling of male chicks is therefore being backed by CNPO.

“This is our strongest wish,” said Juven, who hopes the French government will push this issue when it takes over the EU Council presidency for six months at the start of 2022.

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Optimism remains

CNPO’s president remains hopeful, however, that while the search for alternatives to chick crushing is still in its infancy, efforts to ban chick crushing will continue in France and Germany, while interest on the subject will continue to growing other European countries.

“In the long term, we will have cheaper solutions,” Juven said.

The industry as a whole has also confirmed that it will play its part in the transition despite the difficulties it is likely to face.

“Very attentive to new societal expectations, the industry has indeed been involved for several years in the search for alternative techniques to the elimination of male chicks,” said a CNPO press release.

“Thus, the French egg industry is already on track to make all the necessary adjustments and investments and, given the tight deadlines, will do its utmost to meet the announced deadlines,” the release added.

[Edited by Natasha Foote/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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