day-old male chicks

Systematic killing of male chicks: time to change the law

For too long, the systematic killing of millions of male chicks has been the norm for the egg industry. This year, the EU can put an end to this.


Every year, about 330 million male chicks are killed in the European Union. But rather than being slaughtered for consumption, they are slaughtered to be disposed of. Why, you ask?  

In poultry hatcheries related to the meat and egg production, male chicks are considered an undesirable by-product not only because they cannot produce eggs, but also because these chicks do not grow fast enough for meat fattening and therefore are deemed as uneconomical for the poultry industry.  

This is a result of the use of single-purpose breeding, where chickens bred for egg production cannot be used for poultry meat production and vice versa. The separation of the two production systems leads to an intensification of production and extreme breeding of chickens that grow unnaturally fast or of laying hens that produce so many eggs that they are depleted of calcium, having a life expectancy of 20 months instead of the normal 15 years. 

There are two approved methods used to kill new-born chicks according to Council Regulation (EC) 1099/2009. These include maceration (also called ‘grinding’, ‘shredding’ or ‘mincing’) where the chicks are placed in a large high-speed grinder, and asphyxiation (also called ‘gassing’), where carbon dioxide is used to induce unconsciousness and then death.  

As recently highlighted in a study by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2019, the maceration of chicks has detrimental effects on animal welfare. The slow rotation of blades or rollers, overloading of machinery and rollers being set too wide, much too often results in a failure to kill the chicks, and instead leaving them conscious in pain, fear and distress

Day-old chicks being selected by sex. Females will be sent for egg production and males will be killed.

Sustainable solutions

While FOUR PAWS advocates for an overall reduction and deintensification of animal agriculture, the increasing consumer demand for eggs and poultry meat means that other immediate solutions must be implemented in the meantime.  

Several alternatives to the culling of male chicks already exist. One that has been advocated by research and development institutes is ‘in-ovo sexing determination’, a method that allows for female embryos to be detected and selected before the eggs hatch. However, this method still supports a production system that uses single-purpose breeds.  

The most sustainable and animal welfare-friendly alternative is the use of dual-purpose breeds. Dual purpose chickens are suitable for both egg production and fattening for meat. While they don’t grow as fast as broiler chickens or produce as many eggs as specialised laying hens, this also means that they are more robust and have less health problems than the commercial selective breeding lines.

Time to change

What is clear is that the practice of the systematic killing newly born chicks is not in line with European consumers’ expectations. Nor with several EU Member States who have already banned this practice – including Germany, Austria, France and Luxembourg.  

In fact, during the Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting in October 2022, on behalf of the Austrian, Belgian, Cypriot, Finnish, French, German, Irish, Luxembourgish and Portuguese delegations, the French and German delegations presented a paper calling for an EU-wide ban on the systematic killing of male chicks. The countries highlighted the need to respond to consumers’ demands for better animal welfare and serve fair competition within the sector. 

Now the European Commission has the chance to do it. As the Commission revises the EU animal welfare legislation and presents its legislative proposals this Autumn, a ban on this cruel and avoidable practice is viable. The prohibition of the culling of male chicks must be included in the ‘Slaughter’ proposal.

Morgane Speeckaert

Morgane Speeckaert

EU Communications Coordinator

+32 2 74 00 888

+39 331 365 4110

Rue Ducale 29, 1000 Brussels


European Policy Office

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