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Video: Chicks Ground Up Alive to Bring You Cheap Eggs

What's an egg hatchery to do with useless male chicks? It grinds them up alive.
 
 
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WARNING: VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED

The "food units" cascading down the conveyor in the video are sorted like apples; some are fine grade, others, rejects.

In this case, however, the kinetic yellow balls comprising an undulating fuzzy mass are not pears or peppers but newly hatched chicks.

And they're being sorted into categories -- male, female and deformed -- with "male" and "deformed" destined for an especially horrible death.

An undercover video made at the Hy-Line Hatchery in Spencer, Iowa -- the largest hatchery for egg-laying breed chicks in the U.S. -- confirms what has been rumored for years about the egg industry: that newly hatched males, which are worthless to the egg industry, are ground up alive in chopping machines called macerators. The video was released released by Mercy For Animals.

Video taken with a hidden camera clearly shows healthy male chicks, peeping and bouncing as they greet the world, fed alive into the blades of the macerator like so much litter. Hello! Goodbye!

"I saw a bloody slush coming out of the bottom of the grinder," writes the MFA investigator who worked in the Hy-Line "transfer room" and on the cleaning crew during May and June. "The plant manager told me that the ground-up male chicks were used in dog food and fertilizer."

Nor does the egg industry want to waste any time letting a chick peck its way out of its shell. The hatchery's "separator" machine efficiently disconnects chicks from their shells at the price of the few which fall to the ground or get caught in the machine and "washed" along with the equipment.

Asked about the panting, damp baby chickens on the floor, half hatched and half dead, a worker tells the MFA investigator, "Some of them get on the floor and get wet and then they're no good." A surviving female chick will begin her tour of duty on the egg farm before she's mature enough to meet the light of day, with a painful visit to the debeaking machine, where her beak will be severed in order to prevent her from pecking her fellow inmates in the tightly-packed quarters in which these birds are raised.

Like veal calves on dairy farms, these baby chickens are separated from their mothers despite their innate biological urges. Their first hours of life will be met, not by their mothers, but by blades, pain and terror in the mechanized hell the egg industry has devised to bring cheap product to the market.

The Mercy For Animals video shows both the ground-alive fate met by male chicks, and the debeaking procedure in which female chicks are inserted, en mass, into a laser cutter where they dangle by their beaks, struggling, while burns are inflicted that make part of their beak fall off in a week.

The procedures shown in the video are legal and accepted industry practices -- including in so-called free range operations. Although these procedures are approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association, some veterinarians dissent.

Dr. Debra Teachout of Illinois notes a particular irony about the debeaking procedure. "As a practicing veterinarian," she explains, "if I were treating a pet chicken of the same age that required a similar surgical procedure on its beak for therapeutic reasons, and I did not use anesthetics followed by pain modulation, it would be considered malpractice." The beak is a "sensory organ," says Dr. Teachout, necessary not just for grasping food, but for "preening, drinking, manipulating objects in the environment, nest building and defense."

"Intense pain, shock and bleeding result" from debeaking and "some chicks may die outright in the process," says Nedim C. Buyukmihci, V.M.D., emeritus professor of veterinary medicine at the University of California, a specialist in farmed animals and chickens. "There is loss of weight because the chicks are too painful or disfigured to eat properly, sometimes because the tongue is injured or severed during the process."

And maceration? Some 150,000 baby males a day face, while alive, the hatchery grinding blades, according to the MFA investigator.

To render live chicks "into pink mush" even as they "bounce and vocalize" cannot be termed euthanasia, says Dr. Teachout because that term implies a "good death."

The U.S. trade group United Egg Producers confirms the daily maceration of thousands of chicks depicted by the video. It's just the price we pay for cheap eggs, said spokesman Mitch Head to the Associated Press. "There is, unfortunately, no way to breed eggs that only produce female hens. If someone has a need for 200 million male chicks, we're happy to provide them to anyone who wants them. But we can find no market, no need."

But at simultaneous press conferences where the video was presented this week in the Iowa cities of Spencer, Des Moines and Davenport, Mercy For Animals contended that many consumers would reject such cruelty if they knew about it. The Chicago-based group is calling on Wal-Mart, Kroger, Safeway and 47 other grocery chains to affix a new label to egg cartons that depicts a chick atop grinding blades, and reads: "Warning: Male chicks are ground up alive by the egg industry."

"The vast majority of Americans care deeply about farmed animal welfare issues, yet, they're kept in the dark about the egg industry's painful disposal of male chicks," says Nathan Runkle, MFA executive director. "If egg producers threw mutilated and ground up puppies or kittens, they'd be prosecuted for cruelty to animals."

Grocery stores and consumers have an obligation to acknowledge the truth about eggs, says Runkle, especially when there are so many "easy and delicious" alternatives. "Compassionate consumers can find an assortment of mouthwatering egg-free recipes at ChooseVeg.com," he says.

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist and cartoonist who frequently writes about the impact of the pharmaceutical, food and gun industries on public health. A former medical copywriter, her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, as well as on the BBC and in the original National Lampoon.