In a massive victory for animal activists and especially the chickens of America, United Egg Producers, America’s largest egg manufacturer — representing 95% of all eggs produced in the US — has announced that by 2020 all culling of male chicks at hatcheries will be eliminated.

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Culling is the term for the standard practice at hatcheries of killing male chicks very shortly after birth by either suffocating them in plastic bags, gassing them, or more commonly, grinding them up alive. (Yes. This is for real.)

The problem with male chicks born in hatcheries, at least from a business standpoint, is that they can’t be sold for meat, because broiler chickens are bred differently. While animal activists have proposed the idea of breeding “dual-purpose” chickens, which could be used for meat as well as servicing hens, this idea has gained very little traction.

It does appear that ending this horrific practice has less to do with compassion and more to do with advances in technology. United Egg Producers says they can replace culling with “in-ovo egg sexing,” which would allow them to determine the sex of the chicks before they begin to develop inside the egg. This will enable egg producers to terminate the male eggs before the chick develops inside the shell. These male-identified eggs would then be diverted for use in alternative industries, such as vaccines and pet food. Yet whether this decision was motivated by profit or compassion is largely irrelevant, because its impact remains the same: millions of baby male chicks will be spared an inhumane, cruel, and senseless death.

In 2014, Unilever became the first major corporation to take a stand against culling and declared its intention to use in-ovo egg selection to avoid male chick culling in hatcheries where hens lay eggs that are used for big name companies such as Ben & Jerry’s and Hellman’s Mayonnaise.

The majority of research towards in-ovo sexing has taken place in Germany, and last year policymakers committed to using the technology to completely eliminate chick culling by 2017. While government action in the US has been minimal, these new EUP policy changes, which follow negotiations with a group called The Humane League, a fairly new but effective animal rights organization, still mark a huge step in the right direction.

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Humane League executive director David Coman-Hidy stated that the UEP commitment “will virtually eliminate this practice in the American egg industry. It is clear that chick culling will soon be a thing in the past in the US.”

The Humane League

This relatively new company was founded in 2005 and although they have not yet gained the public recognition of animal right’s organizations like PETA, they are quickly becoming one of the most effective voices for animals in the United States. This group’s methods of activism have proven impactful, and they have found success lobbying companies that buy large quantities of meat and eggs to demand higher standards of animal welfare from their suppliers.

For example, THL contacted various colleges and universities that employ the food services company Sodexo, along with their students, and asked that students demand the company use only cage-free eggs. Eventually Sodexo had no choice but to meet the demands and they were able to do so cheaply.

“Up until a year ago, THL had achieved 2-4 corporate victories per year with two part-time staff working on corporate campaigns,” the Open Philanthropy Project wrote in an analysis earlier this year. “Since putting four full-time staff on corporate campaigns a year ago, THL has achieved about 35 victories.”

“These are all standard tactics,” Coman-Hidy said in an interview last year. “But with only a few people and a few laptops, we could replicate the work over and over with new clients each week, and that was what made the campaign. Sodexo lasted two months. … If you perfect your tactics, it costs almost nothing. Getting 54 companies was done by three or four people with laptops.”

How Can We Help?

While this is certainly a huge step in the right direction, and we are lucky to have organizations such as THL to help put ethical, humane practices into effect, there are still many horrifying things that happen within the egg industry. By being aware of what’s going on and making more ethical decisions you can directly help put an end to these practices. Check out: 21 Things The Egg Industry Does Not Want You To See for more information about how eggs are produced and how the hens are treated, and also to find out how you can opt out of supporting these companies and find more ethical choices.

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