France to ban culling of unwanted male chicks by end of 2021

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A chick stands among eggs being hatched inside an incubator at the Agriculture Fair in Paris in February 2017.Image source, AFP
Image caption,
An estimated seven billion unwanted male chicks are killed each year

France has pledged to outlaw the practice of culling unwanted male chicks by the end of 2021, as part of animal welfare reforms.

About seven billion male chicks - not wanted for meat or eggs - are killed around the world each year, usually in shredding machines or by gas.

The government said new methods were emerging that would make it possible to test the sex of embryos inside the egg.

But some campaigners said the reforms did not go far enough.

What are the changes in France?

French Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume announced the reforms at a press conference in Paris on Tuesday.

"From the end of 2021, nothing will be like it was before," he said.

Mr Guillaume said he hoped a method would soon be developed that would allow the sex of a chick to be determined before it had hatched.

Researchers have been working on the issue for years, but are yet to come up with a solution that works on an industrial scale.

The 2021 ban will make France one of the first countries to outlaw the practice of culling male chicks. A court in Germany has ruled that the practice can continue on a temporary basis until an alternative can be found.

France and Germany last year said they would work together to put an end to mass chick culling.

Mr Guillaume also announced on Tuesday that the practice of castrating piglets without anaesthesia would be banned by the end of 2021.

Castration is performed to prevent "boar taint" - a potent smell or taste that can occur in the meat of non-neutered pigs. Several countries have already made the use of anaesthesia obligatory.

How widespread is male chick culling?

The mass-killing of male chicks shortly after birth is common practice in food production around the world.

For the billions of hens used in egg production every year, a similar number of male chicks are killed shortly after birth.

Male chicks are viewed in the industry as commercially useless, because they grow more slowly than hens so are deemed unsuitable for meat production.

After sorting, the most common methods of killing involve asphyxiation by gassing or maceration in high-speed grinders.

Last year, Switzerland outlawed maceration.

What has the response been?

Many animal rights activists welcomed the changes in France but said they did not go far enough.

They are "a step in the right direction, but still inadequate", Anissa Putois of the campaigning group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) told AFP news agency.

French animal protection group L214 said the measures were "not ambitious" and "do not address the basic problems".

"There is nothing on slaughter conditions, nor on how to exit from intensive animal farming," it said, according to AFP.

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Media caption,

These chicken nuggets were grown in a lab from cells taken from a living animal