By Maneka Gandhi
I came across a blog by an Indian software engineer, who claimed that he had not eaten eggs because he was a Hindu vegetarian but, since he was curious about “actual facts”, he did some research and had come to the conclusion that eating eggs was OK, because no chicks are killed in the process and that, since eggs are not animal flesh, they were vegetarian. This was his reasoning to start eating eggs and yet be called vegetarian. “Laying eggs to a chicken is similar to the menstrual cycle for a woman. This means that hens do not need to be pregnant to lay eggs. Every chicken lays a certain number of eggs each week and peaks for the first 2-3 years after which it slowly drops off but still continues until 5 years, which is its life expectancy.” He ended by saying that he demanded science over religion. Unfortunately, every word he wrote was rubbish.
So, here is the actual science of whom an egg-eater kills every time he eats an omelet:
The eggs we eat come from hens in giant industrial hatcheries. But when fertile eggs hatch to produce these hens, 50% are male—and the egg business has no use for male chicks.
Layer hens and their chicks are different to chickens that are bred and raised for meat production. Layer hens are bred to produce eggs, whereas meat chickens are bred to grow large breast muscle and legs.
At the layer-hen hatcheries, supplying the egg industry with layer hens, the eggs are developed in industrial incubators. Once hatched, the newborn chicks pass down a production line to be sexed and sorted. Small or weak female chicks, and all male chicks, are separated from the healthy female chicks and then killed.
Male chicks are an unwanted byproduct: they cannot lay eggs and they are not suitable for chicken-meat production, as they don’t grow fast enough (broilers or chickens grown for meat are killed in six weeks). Seven billion male chicks are killed annually. They are mashed and fed to the female chicks, or used as feed for other animals.
A chick is put on a conveyor belt as soon as it is born. It is picked up manually and a “chicken sexer” (this is actually a human’s job!) squeezes this little baby’s anus (anal vent also called cloaca) so that its faeces comes out and he can see whether the chick has a small bump inside. If so, this is a male chick and it is put aside to be killed. (By the way, the salary for a chicken sexer in England is 40,000 Pounds but hardly anyone applies. (‘What does papa do?’ He looks at baby chick anuses the whole day). The average life of a male chick, in the egg industry, is one day.
The forms of killing are:
1. The chicks are thrown into gas chambers and then gassed with high concentrations of carbon dioxide. Gassing results in gasping and head shaking and, depending on the mixture of gases used, it may take up to two minutes for the chick to die. Remember how the world objected to Hitler doing that with people. He probably learnt it from the poultry industry.
2. Being thrown, fully conscious, into macerating (high speed grinding) machines. “Mechanical destruction” is an approved method of “culling chicks and ducklings”.
3. In smaller poultries, the chicks simply have their necks broken. The sexers check the anus and then twist the baby’s neck and throw it into a heap of dead bodies. The industry calls it “cervical dislocation”. This is recommended by the American Veterinary Association, God bless them. So is “thoracic compression”, which means that the man squeezes the chest till the heart stops.
4. Electrocution. The chicken is thrown into water through which a current passes and it writhes till it dies. At the end of the day the current is switched off and the dead bodies taken out. If it is a large poultry, a high-speed vacuum sucks chicks through a series of pipes to an electrified kill plate.
5. Another common way is to throw the live chicks into plastic bags and, when it is full, seal them so that the chicks slowly suffocate. This is usually done to pipped eggs. A pipped egg, or pip, is one where the chick has not been successful in fully escaping the egg shell during the hatching process, but is alive inside it and no one in the egg factory is bothered to help it out (after all its only a chick and time is short).
All these methods are legal internationally. According to the British Egg Industry (BEIS) spokesman, “The practice of culling male chicks has been in place as long as the industry has been there anywhere in the world.”
In 2016, the United Egg Producers, which represents the egg industry in the United States, announced that it was committing itself to new technology that would stop the killing by 2020. This was after intense pressure from animal welfare organisations in the US and Europe. In 2015, a video went viral of an Israeli animal rights activist shutting down a chick shredding machine and challenging a police officer to turn it back on. Farm Forward challenged Unilever, which buys 350 million eggs annually, with a video of chicks being rolled on industrial conveyor belts and dropped down garbage disposals. More than a million people saw it. No US company did anything for four years.
However, a new technology could put an end to the annual live-shredding of billions of male chicks worldwide – by not letting them be born. German and Dutch scientists have found a way to detect male eggs.
Some years ago, scientists at the University of Leipzig discovered that female eggs contain a hormone, called estrone sulfate, which appears when the egg is just 9 days old (it takes 21 days to hatch) and developed a chemical marker like a pregnancy test.
Dutch technology company Hatch Tech has made an automated machine to conduct this test in egg hatcheries which is easy to use, scalable, precise, hygienic and, above all, fast – the eggs can’t be out of the incubator for more than two hours.
A laser beam burns a 0.3mm-wide hole in the shell. Then, air pressure is applied to the shell exterior, pushing a drop of fluid out of the hole which is tested for the hormone. The process takes one second per egg. The patented process is called Seleggt. The 9 day old male eggs are processed into animal feed, leaving only female chicks to hatch.
In November 2018, a Berlin supermarket starting selling these eggs. These No Kill eggs are called Respeggt and they will go on sale all over Germany in 2019 and Europe by 2020. By determining the chick’s sex long before it hatches, producers can make sure that almost every single chick that’s born is female. The goal is 100% female chicks,
The project was funded by the government of Germany – unlike the Indian Government, whose poultry scientists’ main achievement in CARI Bareilly has been proving that eggs that are boiled in salt absorb it, so people don’t have to buy more salt!
As we stand now in India, every egg eater eats the bodies of male chicks. Don’t be fooled by labels like “Humane” – it is impossible to buy eggs that haven’t been part of a male-chick killing process. “Cage-free” only means the chickens are not in cages. But they are crowded into windowless sheds, with thousands of birds on the floor and little room to move. Male chicks are still killed. “Free range” means the same. Even the term “certified organic” only guarantees that animals are raised without hormones and antibiotics.
And, male chicks aren’t the only victims of the egg production process: hens are typically slaughtered in a year when their egg laying rates start to decline, even though their normal lifespan is 15 years.
They have their beaks cut to ensure they do not peck at each other. They live on a diet of cardboard, corn, hormones and the crushed bodies of their own brothers. Fifty billion chickens are killed annually. Everyone who eats an egg has taken part in the killing. There are so many films on You Tube. You should see them if you are an egg eater.
(To join the animal welfare movement contact firstname.lastname@example.org, www.peoplefor animalsindia.org)