More than 50 million male chicks are to be saved each year in France, as the country formally bans the egg farming industry from slaughtering the animals. The industry has until the end of 2022 to comply.
A decree published on Sunday, February 6 in the Journal Officiel officially outlaws the practice, after years of debate on the issue.
France is the leading producer of eggs in the European Union, and currently kills around 50 million male chicks at birth, of 300 million killed per year in the EU. These males are killed because they will not grow up to lay eggs, and are not of the right breed to be used for meat.
Farmers and producers will now need to employ alternative methods to ensure that the male chicks are never born in the first place.
This includes technology that enables the sex of the embryo to be identified before they develop into chicks and hatch.
The decree states: “Operators shall demonstrate compliance…by the installation of equipment enabling the sex of the embryo to be determined no later than the fifteenth day of incubation [out of 21], or by any other means providing equivalent guarantees”.
Producers will be required to show that they have at least ordered sex identification machines or equivalent by March this year, and all will need to comply by the end of 2022. Those who do not will be fined an as-yet-unspecified amount.
Research and development of these techniques have been increased in recent years, as calls for a ban on male chick culling have increased from animal welfare associations.
Animal welfare group L214 has been calling for a ban for years, after publishing a video showing male chicks being suffocated in a rubbish bag in 2014.
New technology, including some developed in Brittany, will enable producers to determine the sex of the eventual chicks while still in-ovo, to prevent the males from developing into chickens only to be killed soon after hatching.
The technology sorts the eggs by sex, with the female eggs continuing to be incubated so they will hatch into chickens that will produce eggs for eating and the male eggs going to be processed into animal feed.
Hy-Line France, part of the German Erich Wesjohann Group, uses optical “hyperspectral” technology developed in part by Agri Advanced Technologies (AAT).
It allows the colour of the chicks’ first feathers to be discerned on day 13 of the 21-day incubation period. These feathers are lighter in colour in males than females, meaning their sex can be determined.
In March last year, Yves de la Fouchardière, director of farming group Fermiers de Loué, in collaboration with supermarket giant Carrefour, called the technology "revolutionary”. He said that in 2021, the farm group would have ‘ovosexed’ more than 500,000 chickens.
He said: “At the end of the day, ‘sexing’ increases the price of a box of six eggs by less than five cents. That is really not much compared to the scandal of male chicks being killed at one day old.”
He added that some producers still see the practice as a burden, but that they would need “convincing”.
In 2019, the then-minister for Agriculture Didier Guillaume promised to end the practice in France by the end of 2021. However, the case did not proceed as quickly as hoped.
Now, the state is set to help cover a portion of costs incurred for producers switching over to new methods. The industry has estimated that the cost of changing the process will reach €64million per year; around 4% of the sector’s worth.
France is not the only country to ban the practice recently; it has also been illegal in Germany since the start of this year.