Animal welfare campaigners are cautiously welcoming a move by the French government to ban the widespread practices of live shredding of unwanted male chicks in the poultry industry and castrating piglets without anaesthesia.
Every year around the world about 7bn male chicks, which cannot be sold to lay eggs or used for meat, are systematically shredded alive in industrial macerators, gassed or suffocated to death.
France will become one of the first countries to ban use of all these methods to dispose of male chicks.
“The aim is to oblige firms ... to do this by the end of 2021,” agriculture minister Didier Guillaume told reporters on Tuesday.
He said he hoped the poultry industry would develop methods of determining the sex of an embryo before chicks hatch.
Currently scientists must pierce each egg to take samples to test the gender of an unhatched chick – a process which is not possible to carry out on an industrial scale.
The practice of shredding chicks has also recently been banned in Switzerland, where it was uncommon, and also in Germany where it remains widespread – 45 million male chicks are slaughtered every year. German courts ruled egg producers could continue grinding male chicks to death until a scaleable means of determining the sex of an embryo in an egg was found.
Shredding of chicks is permissible under EU law, so long as death is instantaneous and the bird is less than 72 hours old.
Mr Guillaume said the same timescale would apply to banning the castration of piglets without anaesthesia, according to AFP.
Boars are usually castrated to encourage animals reared for meat to put on weight, and because fat in the meat from uncastrated pigs can apparently gives off a more potent smell when cooked, and is known as “boar taint”. But boar taint only usually affects 20 per cent of uncastrated pigs.
In the UK, the RSPCA says most – if not all – male chicks are killed using gas, which can take up to two minutes to kill them, but maceration is also allowed.
British group Animal Aid said they welcome “the positive news that France is to spare millions of male chicks from these practices and hope that other countries will also take action.”
A spokesperson for the group told The Independent: “However, we are hugely saddened that many French egg laying hens continue to spend their short lives imprisoned in cruel cages. We would like to draw readers’ attention to the fact that sadly, the UK egg industry treats male chicks as though they are inanimate waste products, not living, breathing animals who are all individuals and feel pain and suffering. They are routinely gassed at just a day old.
“Laying hens, even in free range systems, can be crammed many thousands at a time into noisy, dusty, filthy sheds, some never able to access the outdoors. This is a far cry from the deceptive imagery on egg box packaging, with happy hens roaming freely in the sunshine, abundant grass underfoot. Once their laying declines and they are no longer deemed economically viable, they are typically crammed into crates and trucked off to the slaughterhouse at just a fraction of their natural lifespan.
“But really, we have no need to use and abuse animals in food production. The best thing we can do to help end this shocking cruelty is to give up eggs and other animal products and embrace a cruelty-free, vegan diet instead.”
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