Male chicks on a macerator conveyor belt, seconds before they are killed
Chicks ground by a macerator

Chick culling or unwanted chick killing is the process of separating and killing unwanted (male and unhealthy female) chicks for which the intensive animal farming industry has no use. It occurs in all industrialised egg production, whether free range, organic, or battery cage. However, some certified pasture-raised egg farms are taking steps to eliminate the practice entirely.[1][2] Worldwide, around 7 billion male chicks are culled each year in the egg industry.[3] Because male chickens do not lay eggs and only those in breeding programmes are required to fertilise eggs, they are considered redundant to the egg-laying industry and are usually killed shortly after being sexed, which occurs just days after they are conceived or after they hatch.[3] Some methods of culling that do not involve anaesthetics include: cervical dislocation, asphyxiation by carbon dioxide, and maceration using a high-speed grinder. Maceration is the primary method in the United States. Maceration is often a preferred method over carbon dioxide asphyxiation in western countries as it is often considered as "more humane" due to the deaths occurring immediately or within a second.[4][5]

Due to modern selective breeding, laying hen strains differ from meat production strains (broilers). In the United States, males are culled in egg production because males "don't lay eggs or grow large enough to become broilers."[4]

Ducklings and goslings are also culled in the production of foie gras. However, because males gain more weight than females in this production system, the females are culled, sometimes in an industrial macerator.[6] Up to 40 million female ducks per year may be killed in this way. The remains of female ducklings are later used in cat food and fertilisers.[7]

Because of animal welfare concerns, there is societal opposition to chick culling. In the 2010s, scientists developed technologies to determine the sexes of chicks when they are still in their eggs (in-ovo sexing). Germany and France jointly became the first countries in the world to prohibit all chick killing from 1 January 2022, and called on other EU member states to do the same.[8] Italy also banned the practice soon after.[9]


Chicks bred in the early 1900s

Prior to the development of modern broiler meat breeds, chickens were largely dual-purpose breeds, with most male chickens (cockerels) were slaughtered for meat, whereas females (pullets) would be kept for egg production. However, once the industry successfully bred separate meat and egg-producing hybrids—starting in the 1920s and 1930s[10]—there was no reason to keep males of the egg-producing hybrid. As a consequence, the males of egg-laying chickens are killed as soon as possible after hatching and sexing to reduce financial losses incurred by the breeder. Special techniques have been developed to accurately determine the sex of chicks at as young an age as possible.

In November 2018, the "world's first industry-scale production no-kill eggs" were sold to the public in Berlin, Germany.[11]


Chick grinding machine

Several methods are used to cull chicks:

Permitted methods in the EU

Authorised procedures for killing chicks have been harmonised within the European Union. The regulations initiated in 1976 evolved in 1993, the first directive to specifically take chicks into account.[16] A new directive was adopted in 2009, enacted on 1 January 2013 (replacing the 1993 directive) and last updated on 14 December 2019:[17]

Recommended methods and standards in the US and Canada

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA) "Euthanasia" methods include: cervical dislocation, maceration, and asphyxiation by carbon dioxide.[18]

In Canada, the National Farm Animal Care Council (Conseil National Pour Les Soins Aux Animaux D'Elevage) publishes the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Hatching Eggs, Breeders, Chickens and Turkeys,[19] (2016, amended from time to time), which is mentioned in the Health of Animals Regulations section 72.5(1)[20] as the requirements and industry standards that must be met. The "code" defines the euthanasia as the "ending of life [...] in a way that minimizes pain and distress[..] and is characterized by rapid, irreversible unconsciousness [...] followed by prompt death" and adds that protocols including "irreversible stunning of birds prior to the final kill step may assist in effective euthanasia."

The 2005–2006 AMVA Executive Board proposed a policy change, recommended by the Animal Welfare Committee on the killing of unwanted chicks, poults, and pipped eggs. The policy states:

The Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Hatching Eggs, Breeders, Chickens and Turkeys,[19] in Canada, lists the acceptable methods under the Appendix B,[22] grouped as recommended on-Farm or at hatcheries, being:

The outcome expected being instantaneous death. For instance, the maceration must be "instantaneous and complete".[22]

US producers announced in 2016 a goal of being able by 2020 to determine the sex of the developing chick long before hatching, so male eggs can be destroyed.[4][23] However in January 2020 they stated that killing day-old male chicks remains unavoidable due to the lack of a viable alternative.[24]


Male chicks prepared to be killed
Improperly (incomplete) macerated (shredded) male chicks. Some heads are visible. An effective maceration should be instant and complete.[22]

Controversy and phaseout

Animal welfare advocates maintain that many of the current practices surrounding chicken slaughtering are unethical.[41][42][43] Animal rights advocates argue that it is wrong to unnecessarily exploit and kill other sentient beings for food production, including chicks.[44]

Scientific research into alternatives (2010s)

A female chick hatching

Main article: In-ovo sexing

Several technologies may obviate chick culling by determining the sex of a chick before hatching. Some of these technologies rely on measuring eggs (through spectroscopy, chemical assays, or imaging); they can determine a chick's sex within 3-13 days of incubation.[45] Some methods require genetic engineering to make male eggs fluorescent. Such methods are attractive not only for ethical reasons but to reduce the costs of employing human cullers and of incubating male eggs. Timothy Kurt, a director from the United States Department of Agriculture, said, "Everyone wants the same thing, and the right piece of technology could solve this right now."[46]

A Unilever spokesperson has been quoted as saying in 2014: "We have also committed to providing funding and expertise for research and introduction of alternative methods such as in-ovo gender identification (sexing) of eggs. This new technology offers the potential to eliminate the hatching and culling of male chicks."[15]

In 2015, the Leipzig University developed a method to determine the gender of fertilized eggs 72 hours after the incubation process has started. The procedure would use a laser to drill a hole into the eggshell and analyze the way the egg's blood cells disperse that light using near-infrared Raman spectroscopy.[47] The hole in the eggshell would then be sealed again, and female embryos could be incubated as normal. Males would still be discarded, but earlier in their development.[48]

In 2018, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, invested $844,000 to electronically "scan" fertilized eggs to determine if they are male or female.[40]

In September 2019, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, a company that was founded by the United States Congress in 2014 announced a $6 million prize for in-ovo sexing technology that could meet certain criteria.[49] They awarded $2,113,915 of this prize to six entrants in November 2019.[50]

CRISPR technology uses a "pair of molecular scissors" to illuminate the male chicks after being conceived and before being placed in the incubator to be hatched, thus eliminating all male chicks from being hatched.[51]

In spring 2021, the Leiden-based Dutch company In Ovo presented the new in ovo-sexing machine "Ella", which had an accuracy of over 95%, which could possibly be upgraded to 99% in the short term. Its method of retrieving some fluid from the fertilised egg with a needle, and finding the biomarker sabineamine in this sample with mass spectrometry, takes less than one second to perform.[52]

In late May 2021, a research team from the Technische Hochschule OWL based in Lemgo, Germany, claimed to be able to shine a laser into a small hole in fertilised eggs' scale, and derive its sex from the reflected light using fluorescence spectroscopy within six days, thus complying to Germany's legal requirement of early sexing from 2024. Startups including Respeggt and In Ovo responded skeptically, saying the publication of these conclusions seemed rushed, and that "many methods may seem promising at first, but aren't immediately useful in practice."[53]

Legal challenge in Germany (2013–2019)

Federal Administrative Court

In 2013, the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia issued a decree banning hatcheries from killing chicks, against which two egg hatcheries in the state appealed.[54] As paragraph one of Germany's Animal Welfare Act stipulates that "No-one shall inflict pain, suffering or harm on an animal without a reasonable cause," a lower court ruled that killing for food production was a "reasonable" ground.[54] This led to a challenge in the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig.[54] On 13 June 2019,[54] this court decided that the current way of culling chicks "violates the country's laws against killing animals without a justifiable reason."[46] However, the court allowed hatcheries to keep culling chicks on a temporary basis until alternatives, such as sex determination in eggs, are introduced.[54] Such "no-kill eggs" had been introduced into the German market in 2018 and were available in more than 200 shops by June 2019.[54] As of June 2023, five companies have commercially available in-ovo sexing technology, which is estimated to be used for 15 percent of the European layer population.[55]

Political efforts (2018–present)

Current global legal status of chick culling in the poultry industry:
  Ban on all chick culling (France, Germany, Luxembourg)
  Grinding chicks illegal, gassing chicks legal (Switzerland, Austria)
  Planned ban on all chick culling (Spain and Netherlands)
  Chick culling legal, no ban planned
  No data

On 6 June 2018, Luxembourg amended its Animal Protection Act (Loi sur la protection des animaux, Deiereschutzgesetz, Tierschutzgesetz), including a ban on "eliminating animals for exclusively economic reasons", understood as covering killing male chicks and male calves in milk production. The government claimed Luxembourg to have been the first country in the world to prohibit these practices; although it appears these did not exist within its borders at the time anyway, it did set a legal precedent for other countries to follow suit.[56]

In response to the June 2019 Leipzig court ruling, German Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner stated chick culling was "ethically unacceptable" and argued it should be prohibited.[54] The Grand Coalition agreement of March 2018 stated that chick culling should have been ended "by the middle of the current legislative period", which would have been in October 2019, but this goal was not met.[32] At that time, gassing was the most common method of chick culling in Germany, which killed up to 50 million chicks a year.[32] Although the federal government had already invested millions of euros in stimulating scientific research into two alternative methods for sex determination in eggs by then, these were still not ready for the market yet.[32]

In September 2019, in Switzerland, the parliament voted to outlaw the shredding of chickens. This is despite this practice not being used in Switzerland. It was further commented that: "This tendency to rear species only for the production of eggs or for meat turns animals into mere objects. It has led to absurd practices such as the shredding of living male chicks". However, the practice of gassing chicks, which kills about three million male baby chicks in Switzerland per year, remained legal.[37]

In late October 2019, French Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume told France Inter: "We announced last week with my colleague, German Minister for Agriculture [Julia Klöckner], that we were going to stop the shredding of chicks, which is no longer bearable today. We said end of the year 2021." He further argued that the practice needed to be phased out and not immediately discontinued: "If we do it right away, what will happen? There won't be eggs anymore."[57]

On 13 January 2020, during an official visit of Guillaume to Klöckner, the Ministers said in a joint statement that France and Germany wanted to end the mass shredding of male chicks at the EU level by the end of 2021. Guillaume stated that "France and Germany should be the European motor to advance on this issue", with Klöckner adding that Germany's EU presidency in the second half of 2020 was a good opportunity to do so. The countries planned to bring together various groups to share scientific knowledge and implement alternative methods.[58] On 28 January 2020, Guillaume repeated at a press conference that the culling of unwanted male chicks (by shredding) would be outlawed in France by the end of 2021.[59] While some animal rights activists welcomed the move, others said that the decision did not go far enough.[60] The minister's entourage told Agence France-Presse that it was unclear whether his announced ban also included asphyxiation by CO2[61] (which was excluded from the Swiss ban[59]), pressing him to explicitly prohibit that chick culling method as well.[61]

In early February 2020, four Dutch animal rights organisations sent letters to Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the Parliamentary Commission on Agriculture urging them to follow the examples given by Switzerland and France, and phase out all chick culling including gassing in the Netherlands by the end of 2021.[62] The Dutch Ministry of Agriculture cautiously responded that "a political solution is being explored" and that the Agriculture Minister would soon provide more information.[63] In March 2020, the Directorate of Production and Agrarian Markets of the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture stated that it is working with egg producers to end the annual culling of 35 million male chicks in Spain in 2021. The Ministry said producers were testing two different techniques of in-ovo sex detection.[36]

Current legal status of chick culling in Europe.
  Ban on all chick culling
  Grinding (shredding) chicks illegal, gassing chicks legal
  Planned ban on all chick culling
  Chick culling legal, no ban planned
  No data

In January 2021, the German federal government approved a draft law banning chick culling, to be effectuated at the end of 2021.[64] If passed by the Bundestag, Germany would become the first country in the world to ban this practice, confirming its joint commitment with France made in January 2020.[65] On 20 May 2021, the Bundestag indeed voted to ban the culling of male chicks in Germany from 1 January 2022.[66] Initially, the new German law also dictated that by 1 January 2024, all fertilised eggs in Germany must be sexed before day 7 of incubation, to avoid any chance of the embryo having consciousness and thus being able to experience pain.[53] However, a further study conducted by the German government concluded that embryos do not feel pain before day 13, and the law was adjusted accordingly. This was a positive development for the in-ovo sexing industry, since many technologies can work before day 13, but not before day 7.[45]

On 15 June 2021, the Dutch parliament by 81 votes to 69 adopted a motion[67] directed at Agriculture Minister Carola Schouten to ban chick killing in the Netherlands.[68][69] The motion, written and submitted by MPs Sandra Beckerman (SP) and Leonie Vestering (PvdD), stated: "[Parliament], noting that about 40 million male chicks are killed in the Netherlands annually because they have no economic value; considering that this is unnecessary because there are alternatives; considering that France and Germany are already introducing a ban; pronounces that the killing of male chicks should be prohibited."[68][67] The same day, another motion by MPs Beckerman and Derk Boswijk (CDA), adopted by a much larger majority of 115 votes to 35,[70] requested the government to inquire how, and how fast, a ban on killing male chicks could be introduced.[69] The motion reiterated that the annual killing of 40 million Dutch male chicks was unnecessary, that France and Germany were already introducing a ban, and furthermore stated that "a ban in the Netherlands is desirable and must be done in a way that is good for animals, farmers and consumers."[70] The Steering Group on One-Day Cockerels, set up by the Ministry of Agriculture after this, published two research reports in November 2022, which showed that the issue was complex and a Dutch ban on chick killing could not be introduced for the time being, but agreements were already reached between the Ministry and the poultry sector on structurally reducing chick killing.[71]

On 8 July 2021, the Belgian region of Wallonia banned the broyage (grinding) of male chicks, but not the gazage (gassing); although welfarists criticised the lack of a ban on gassing, neither killing method has been practiced at businesses inside the Walloon Region.[72][73][74][75]: 5 [76]: 5 

On 18 July 2021, French Minister of Agriculture, Julien Denormandie, announced chick culling would be banned from 1 January 2022.[77] Both maceration and gassing will be prohibited, and the French government would grant chicken breeders subsidies of 10 million euros combined in order to acquire in-ovo sexing machines instead (leading to extra consumer costs of about 1 eurocent per box of six eggs). Denormandie stated that two-thirds of the poultry industry was expected to have adopted these machines by the end of the first quarter of 2022.[78] and must have them installed by December 31, 2022.[79] On 21 July 2021, Germany and France made a joint declaration that called on other EU member states to prohibit chick culling throughout the Union; their call was officially supported by Austria, Spain, Ireland, Luxembourg, and Portugal.[8] In December 2021, Italy's Chamber of Deputies first proposed plans to ban chick culling per 1 January 2027, confirming its decision on 3 August 2022, in part due to welfarists' campaigning since 2020.[80][81]

As of 12 October 2022, Austria and Luxembourg have banned the systematic killing of male chicks.[82] Per 1 January 2023, the Animal Protection Act of Austria added provisions, including "The shredding of living chicks is forbidden", as well as that out-sorting of in ovo sexed eggs was legal before 14 days, but had to involve stunning the embryo if done after 6 days.[83]

By 2023, multiple state governments in India had also started taking steps to curb this practice on the behest of PETA India.[84]

With the adoption of the Flemish Animal Welfare Code in May 2024, chick culling was banned in Flanders in principle, but the ban would not take effect until a date to be determined:

Article 37. The killing of day-old chicks is prohibited.
The first paragraph shall come into force on a date to be determined by the Flemish Government. Such date shall be determined from as soon as sex determination of chicks in the egg is feasible for day 12 after incubation.
The Flemish Government may provide for exceptions to the prohibition as referred to in the first paragraph.[85]: 39 

Business efforts (2018–present)

Currently, the following businesses (producers, distributors and retailers) are in the process of introducing no-kill eggs (also called 'brotherless eggs') and phasing out kill eggs:

A sixpack of organic eggs with the Respeggt label, sold by Jumbo in the Netherlands, July 2021

The following businesses are considering or have committed to introducing no-kill eggs and phasing out kill eggs:

See also


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