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 have pledged to end from January 2022. EURACTIV France and EURACTIV Germany report.
It is “a big step forward” that French citizens have been waiting for for a long time, tweeted French Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie on Sunday (18 July), announcing the country’s ban on culling male chicks from 2022. Together with Germany, France will thus be “the first country in the world to put an end to the killing of male chicks,” he added.
Each year in France, over 50 million male chicks are killed shortly after hatching, while females are allowed to live on as future laying hens.
The practice has been sharply criticised by animal activists for years as unethical and because of the great suffering the male chicks often go through before death.
Finally on the way out
Since 2009, an EU regulation has guaranteed the protection of animals, stating that animals must be “spared any avoidable pain, stress and suffering” at the time of killing. It also provides that animals may only be killed after stunning, and the “absence of perception and sensation must last until the animal’s death.” This is not always the case in reality, however.
The gravity of the issue was brought to light by French animal welfare organisation L214 which in 2014 reported that chicks were being crushed alive or thrown into rubbish bins. Later, in a 2019 scientific opinion, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) warned of numerous failures in practices that cause stress and suffering to male chicks.
The practice will soon be dropped in France and Germany.
From 2022, French breeders will need to equip themselves with machines to detect the sex of chicks before they hatch. On Monday, Denormandie explained on the fringes of a meeting of agriculture ministers in Brussels that from 1 January, 2022, “all hatcheries must have either installed or ordered the equipment to carry out these alternative methods.”
In Germany, the Bundestag and Bundesrat had already passed a law in May banning the routine killing of male chicks from 2022 after the Constitutional Court previously declared the practice illegal. “With our law, we are international pioneers,” said Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner at the meeting of agriculture ministers pn Monday.
The law was criticised by the German poultry industry, which called for an EU-wide approach as it set unequal competitive standards.
Other member states need to share the vision
Although this makes Germany and France pioneers in terms of ending chick culling, Denormandie called for a “political vision shared by the other member states.”
“The technology is also available to other member states. We are happy to support the other countries in introducing it,” Klöckner added.
With the support of Austria, Spain, Ireland, Luxembourg and Portugal, Germany and France submitted a document to the other agriculture ministers, calling for an EU-wide chick culling ban.
This “ethically unacceptable” practice would no longer be in line with the European Commission’s commitments, at a time when proposals for more animal welfare across the bloc – like the ‘End the Cage Age’ EU citizens’ initative which was successful in pushing the Commission to announce an EU cage farming ban by 2027 – are multiplying.
“The killing of large numbers of day-old chicks is, of course, an ethical issue,” said EU Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides at the ministers’ meeting, announcing that the EU executive would use the upcoming review of EU animal welfare rules to “look very carefully at the issue and find the best possible solution.”
A commitment that comes at a price
Such a commitment comes at a price, however.
“We welcome new technologies for detecting the sex of chicks in the egg, but the introduction of such technologies is, of course, costly,” said Czech representative, Jaroslav Zajíček, during the meeting. This could be a problem especially for smaller producers, he added.
Although France’s agriculture minister has already promised a “massive” €10 million as part of the country’s recovery plan, the switch to the new technology will mean considerable additional costs for the industry.
Consumers, too, will have to dig deeper into their pockets.
Eggs will soon “inevitably become more expensive,” Philippe Juven, the president of the National Committee for the Promotion of Eggs in France warned on Sunday.
[Edited by Josie Le Blond]