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Germany to ban 'chick shredding' from 2022 in global first

January 20, 2021

Germany will prohibit the mass slaughter of day-old male chicks, according to a draft bill signed by the Cabinet. Critics say, however, that the new measure isn't far-reaching enough to protect animal welfare.

Image: Soumyabrata Roy/Pacific Press/picture alliance

Germany will ban the slaughter of day-old male chicks starting in 2022, becoming the first country to do so, according to draft legislation signed by the Cabinet on Wednesday. 

Chicken farms across the world traditionally slaughter male chicks by the millions, but German farmers will have to stop the practice. Instead, they will be required to use technology to prevent male chicks from being born in the first place, by identifying the sex of the animal before it has hatched.

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A world first in agricultural policy

"This is unfortunately in practice everywhere in the world. But I do not consider this to be ethically acceptable," said Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner, who proposed the bill. "Therefore, we will be the first country to ban chick culling by law," she said in a speech marking the start of Germany's International Green Week. 

At a later phase in the transition, from early 2024, only methods used much earlier in the incubation process will be allowed, aiming to ensure that the embryos feel no pain.

In Germany alone, about 45 million male chicks are killed each year in a practice that animal welfare advocates call "chick shredding." The chicks are culled shortly after hatching because they cannot lay eggs and are not suitable for meat production, meaning that raising them would not be economically viable. 

Germany's Federal Administrative Court ruled in 2019 that animal welfare concerns outweigh the economic interests of farmers who wish to practice chick shredding, and declared the practice permissible only for a transitional period.

The new standards will likely be compensated by higher prices for eggs and meat. 

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Critics call for stronger measures

Despite the move to ban the practice, advocates and critics have called for more far-reaching measures. 

"This cannot be a solution," said Olaf Bandt, the chairman of the German Association of Environmental and Nature Conservation. "We need the long overdue restructuring of animal husbandry – towards a system that does not sort out animals because they are apparently useless."

What is necessary, he said, is to rely consistently on dual-purpose chickens, or those used to produce both eggs and meat. The Agriculture Ministry acknowledges, however, that such hens lay fewer and smaller eggs. 

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Alternatively to killing embryos while they're in the egg, farmers are also able to raise male chickens alongside hens — resulting in a lower profit margin or a higher cost of poultry products. 

Martin Rücker, managing director of consumer advocacy organization Foodwatch, echoed Bandt's views. "Anyone who wants animal welfare must put an end to the animal-cruelty madness of high-performance hens," he said. 

Even if the practice of killing chicks in Germany is banned, "this will change absolutely nothing about the unbearable suffering of laying hens," said Rücker. 

Parliamentary co-chair of the Left Party, Amira Mohamed Ali, also said that the new measures do not go far enough. "The male chicks must be raised and under decent conditions," she said. 

lc/msh (dpa, KNA)