Various breeds are used around the world for the production of chicken meat and eggs. These breeds can be divided into two broad categories.
Broilers are reared for meat production, i.e. they put on a lot of weight in a short time and make very efficient use of their feed. Egg layers grow more slowly in comparison. The hens, however, are able to lay 300 eggs per year and channel their energy efficiently into egg production. After their laying period of approximately one year, they are then sold as soup chickens.
Over the past decades, breeding has thus focused more and more on these two categories: fast-growing meat from broilers and high egg production amongst the layers. The disadvantage of this trend is that the male chickens in the egg-laying breed are of no use. They are unable to put on enough weight or make efficient use of their feed and cannot lay eggs. Therefore, these chicks are rejected as soon as they hatch in the hatcheries and are killed. In Germany, around 45 million male chicks a year meet their end in this way.
According to section 1 of the German Animal Welfare Act (Tierschutzgesetz): ‘No one may harm or cause pain or suffering to an animal without a valid reason.’
An example of a valid reason would be the production of foods that require animals to be slaughtered and killed.
Killing male chicks of the laying breed, purely because they cannot lay eggs, is not a valid reason. But as there is currently no economically feasible alternative for the hatcheries, they continue to enjoy an exemption from the law. Chick culling has therefore not yet been prohibited. If, however, an economically feasible alternative for the hatcheries comes up, we can assume that the ban would also be legally enforceable.