THE truth behind the UK egg hatchery industry have been revealed for the first time during a shocking undercover investigation by animal group Viva!.
Hatcheries across Britain produce millions of hens to replace their 'worn out' sisters (most killed at just 72 weeks), but not every bird makes it out of the hatchery alive. To be precise, half of them don't. The fate of male chicks was one of the egg industry's best kept secrets - until now.
There are two types of chicken. The one raised for meat has been selectively bred to reach adult weight at just six weeks. The one raised to lay eggs has been selectively bred to be as skinny as possible to save space and to channel all her energies into producing eggs.
The egg industry's male chicks have no commercial value because they can't lay eggs and don't grow big enough or fast enough for the meat market. All across Britain, hatcheries perform their dual purpose. They process female chicks in a constant stream to replace slaughtered 'spent' hens; and deal with male chicks but in a much more deadly way.
Viva!'s undercover investigators visited two hatcheries in the North of England. In both places, uncomprehending little chicks were dumped onto conveyor belts to be sexed: females going one way, males another. In one hatchery, males ascended on a conveyor belt before being dropped into a giant gas chamber. At the exit to the chamber, an almost constant flow of falling, lifeless little bodies filled waiting trays in a blur of yellow. They were destined to be sold as food for reptiles.
At the other hatchery, an even more violent end awaited the male chicks. Dropped by hand into a giant macerating machine, they were literally minced alive - living baby animals turned into paste.
Both slaughter methods, gassing and maceration, are approved by the Government's food and farming department, Defra, and the Humane Slaughter Association.
Viva! campaigns manager, Justin Kerswell, said: ' It is the hidden horror that the egg industry does not want you to see. For the first time ever in the UK, the egg industry's number one secret has been exposed: what happens to male chicks.
“In egg production male chicks are surplus to requirements, which means that they are sorted from the females in vast warehouses and then killed in their thousands at just a day or two old. Identical to the chicks you see on Easter greeting cards, these uncomprehending young birds are either sent on a conveyor belt to be gassed or thrown alive into electric mincers.
“Our undercover investigator has revealed the awful truth that underpins the British egg industry. And the female chicks don't get it much better. Roughly sorted from the males, they too are transported on a seemingly never ending conveyor belt. However, they are vaccinated and have the tip of their beaks cut off, which is potentially painful to these young animals.
Mr Kerswell said the conveyor belt system in the egg hatcheries is not unique to the chicks that go into battery cages.
The same system is used to sort those which move to barn, free range or even most organic egg farms.
“It is an unimaginable waste of life - and all just to bring an egg to your morning table, he said.
The actor Martin Shaw, who starred as Judge John Deed is a vegetarian and supporter of Viva! He described the footage as 'shocking'.
He said: 'This exposes the mass murder and mutilation of thousands of baby chicks - at the hands of the British egg industry.
“Supporting this cruel industry sees the continuation of the slaughter of male baby birds for no reason, other than their sex.
Viva! say without this mass slaughter the egg industry couldn't survive. Avoiding eggs altogether is the only sure-fire way of not contributing to this suffering.
For more information about Viva!'s Cracked campaign exposing the egg industry and to watch the investigation footage, visit their website.