European ban on the slaughter of day-old roosters in sight!

27 October 2022

The European Commission wants to end the systematic slaughter of newly hatched roosters in the egg industry. It is a welcome step in the direction of a more animal-friendly food system, something that political parties for animals, nature, and the environment have been pleading for for years. But as the parties emphasize, to structurally improve the wellbeing of animals and to prevent a bird flu pandemic, the poultry industry has to be phased out.

Male and female chicks are separated in a poultry farm in Poland. Photo by Andrew Skowron / We Animals Media.

In the EU, hundreds of millions of day-old roosters are shredded or gassed alive each year. Because roosters or cockerels do not lay eggs, they are not ‘economically viable’ for the egg industry. Animal welfare organisations and animal rights parties around the world have been pleading for a ban on this cruel practice for years. “Tossing live chicks in a shredder or gassing them, even though they have only just hatched, is cruel”, MEP Anja Hazekamp of the Party for the Animals states. “This suffering could be prevented in short term by simply outlawing it.”

Before, Hazekamp had already called upon the European Commission and upon EU nations to follow the example of countries such as Luxembourg, France, and Germany, who have already announced or implemented a ban on killing day-old chicks. In the Dutch parliament, the Party for the Animals successfully proposed a ban on killing rooster chicks as well. An EU-wide ban could speed up this process and stimulate the development of alternatives. Chicken eggs, for example, can be sexed before the embryos have fully matured. However, this technique is barely used in the regular egg industry.

Last week, the agricultural ministers of all EU nations came together in Luxembourg. In response to a call from nations such as Germany, France, Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg and Portugal, the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety promised to issue a proposal aimed at phasing out the killing of day-old chicks. She called upon all EU member states to support the proposal.

Cruel, and a breeding ground for the next pandemic

Photo credits: We Animals Media.

But even if the killing of day-old chicks stops, the practices common in industrial poultry farming raise the question of whether the consumption of eggs is worth the suffering of tens of millions of animals in the industry. Chickens are treated as bulk products that should produce as much as possible against the lowest possible costs. This results in cramped living conditions in sheds where chickens spend their lives without seeing daylight while growing at an unnatural rate due to breeding programmes, a special diet, and medication. Broiler chickens are not able to carry their own body weight at just a few weeks old. Animals are transported across huge distances to be fattened up or slaughtered and display signs of stress and even cannibalism.

Besides that, industrial poultry farming is the source of the highly pathogenic variant of the bird flu, currently making the rounds worldwide and the biggest bird flu epidemic ever in Europe. Even though poultry farmers like to point at wild birds as the cause of this disease, scientific consensus does not. “Without industrial poultry farms, this serious, harmful variant of the bird flu would never have evolved”, virologist Thijs Kuiken of the Erasmus University Rotterdam explains. “Normally, wild birds only carried the low-pathogenic, non-harmful variant. That virus, which used to be a mild flu, was able to mutate into a more serious version in industrial poultry farms.”

Since that variant of the bird flu escaped from poultry farms, wild birds have suffered from it as well. Migratory birds have indeed caused the highly pathogenic variant to spread even further. “But they were only able to do so because it originated in poultry farms in the first place”, Thijs Kuiken emphasized. That makes industrial poultry farming a ticking time bomb, according to virologists and doctors. The flu is exacting a heavy toll amongst wild birds. Billions of chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys in the poultry industry are being killed to prevent further spread. And according to experts, it is only a matter of time before the disease is able to make the jump from human to human. If and when that happens, the next pandemic will become a reality.

Still, poultry farms can simply be ‘restocked’ after they have been ‘pre-emptively emptied’. The Dutch Party for the Animals has called upon the minister responsible for agriculture to stop that at once. Furthermore, the party continues to plead to abolish the industrial livestock industry - whether it serves to produce eggs, meat or dairy.