The German Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig today made a long awaited decision: Killing male chicks of layer breeds has “no longer a reasonable justification according to today’s values” and thus contradicts the Animal Protection Act. The legal situation in Austria in this respect is exactly the same as in Germany.

Killing male chickens is common practice in the production of laying hens. Since these animals can neither lay eggs, nor grow as fast as broiler breeds, they are uneconomical. Their young life is therefore ended by carbon dioxide gassing, with the chicks dying an agonizing death. According to Statistics Austria, more than 9.6 million (!) chicks suffered this fate in Austria in 2018 (approx. 400,000 more than in 2017).

The German and Austrian Animal Welfare Acts prohibit killing an animal “without good reason”. In 2013, North Rhine-Westphalia therefore instructed the veterinary authorities to prohibit the killing of male day-old chicks by administrative order. Two hatcheries took legal action against this. Now the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig decided: The killing of the male chicks of laying breeds is no longer based “on good reason in itself according to today’s values”, is in contradiction to the Animal Protection Act and must be ended. And the reasons given for the judgement make clear: “The interests of animal protection outweigh the economic interests of the hatcheries”.

Unfortunately the court also found that an immediate end to the killing was not feasible for the hatcheries, as it would result in changing their business twice: “In the light of the special circumstances, avoiding such double change is a reasonable justification for temporarily continuing the previous practice.”

Importantly, the court explains how public values have shifted: “The previous practice was tolerated for decades based on lower importance attached to animal protection in line with the values at that time”. However, this no longer corresponds to “today’s values”. Values are shifting!

The question now is, how long is “temporarily”. The court also mentions the “near future”. However, a practice which was recognized as not compatible with the principles of the animal protection law, should be terminated without any delay.

Alternatives, such as egg sexing, are close to market. This must take place at a very early stage of embryonic development though – at least before the embryo feels pain and suffering. It would, however, be better to develop breeds again that are equally suitable for egg and meat production (dual-purpose breeds). And we consumers are also called upon to reduce the unhealthy egg consumption levels in Austria to a reasonable level.

Ending the chick killing is also one of the demands of the petition for a referendum on animal welfare, which is currently collecting declarations of support in Austria. You can support the petition for a referendum at any municipal office in Austria or by digital signature.