Germany will become the first country to ban the slaughter of millions of male chicks in laying hen farms from 2022, according to a bill approved on Wednesday by the government.
“We are the first in the world to take such clear measures,” said Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner, referring to the end of an “unethical practice” as well as “a significant step forward for animal welfare”.
The law will still have to be approved by parliament in the coming weeks.
In Germany, around 45 million male chicks are systematically killed each year shortly after hatching because they do not lay eggs and, because they are smaller, have less meat and are therefore considered unprofitable. This method has been strongly criticised by animal rights activists for years.
The law provides that methods of sexing eggs should be generalised in order to destroy male eggs before hatching.
These currently allow the sex of the embryo of the egg to be determined between the 9th and 14th day of incubation, out of 21.
The new law will support innovative techniques with the aim, from 2024, of being able to determine the sex before the 6th day of incubation, in order to “further improve animal welfare.”
“I expect the industry to follow up these announcements with concrete actions and to modify its product range accordingly,” added Klöckner.
In June 2019, Germany’s highest administrative court gave the poultry industry a deadline, saying it could continue to cull millions of male chicks until methods for large-scale egg sexing were available.
At the beginning of 2020, Klöckner and her French counterpart at the time Didier Guillaume declared their willingness to abandon this practice in their respective countries by the end of 2021.
The German Poultry Federation (ZDG) deplored that ending the practice would lead to “immense competitive disadvantages within the EU for the national poultry industry” and that the law “only provides a partial solution to the problem.”
Since 1 January 2020, Switzerland has also banned the shredding of live chicks, but still allows them to be gassed.