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Sep. 2 2009 - 2:12 pm | 11 views | 0 recommendations | 1,362 comments

Casualties Of Egg Industry: Male Chicks Ground Up Alive

The new wave of American horror movies has not featured a series of slasher flicks or gruesome tales from beyond the dead. Rather, these films have had a far more sinister and chilling common thread; the reality of our food industries. The most stomach wrenching of these include visceral images of hysterical chickens, overfed to the point that their spindly legs are unable to support their grotesquely overgrown breasts, feedlot cattle standing knee deep in their own excrement with barely an inch to move and fattened at an alarmingly fast rate on nutritionally barren corn. Part of the horror we feel no doubt comes from some emotional reaction to seeing animals mistreated. A more significant portion, however, I suspect comes from some belief that such unhygienic conditions will contaminate the processed meat and therefore endanger our own health (think Mad Cow Disease etc).

When I read about and subsequently saw the animal welfare group, Mercy For Animals’, secretly filmed footage inside Hy – Line Hatchery in Iowa, the world’s largest hatchery for egg-laying breed chicks, I was first horrified.  But when the horror subsided, I was above all riddled with a sense of hopelessness. The voiceover in the footage (which can be seen on You Tube) relays that male chicks born in the hatchery are considered redundant as they can’t lay eggs or be reared quickly enough to be profitably used for consumption. Hence the only viable option for Hy – Line and other like facilities is to get rid of the chicks. And by “get rid of”, I mean ground up alive in a massive meat grinder with a rotating blade into which the chicks are mercilessly dropped from a conveyor belt.

A Mercy for Animals employee who had gotten a job at the plant for two months this summer precisely to expose this practice, shot the video using a hidden camera and microphone. In addition to showing male chicks being roughly thrown onto a conveyer belt where they are carted off to their death, it shows a chick which accidentally found itself in a scalding hot bath and another chick which had fallen onto the factory floor and was left to die.    

Hy-Line admitted to the Associated Press that “instantaneous euthanasia” (e.g. grinding up male chicks) is a standard practice throughout the industry and asserts that it is also supported by the animal veterinary and scientific community. Objectively – if objectivity is even possible in such a situation, it is impossible to know how much more painful this method of dying is (if it is at all) than other practices (such as stunning or  the slitting of the throat which is used in Halal slaughterhouses). Still, to any rational human being, throwing a live animal into a grinder moments after its birth seems unjustifiable no matter what angle you take. And aside from the moral questions, in a world where million are starving, this loss of perfectly good food is a grave waste of valuable resources and calories.

The quandary with this “undercover investigation” is that it is the mistreatment not of the animal (or animal product) that we consume but rather the animal which we don’t, that we are being asked to consider and act to redress. Mercy for Animals has appealed to the country’s largest supermarket chains to post labels on egg cartons, warning consumers that the egg industry are ground-up alive by the egg industry. The challenge for the consumer who is moved to act by the exposé of what Mercy for Animals deems “one of the (egg) industry’s best kept secrets”, is that there really isn’t a great deal one can do, short of not eating eggs altogether, that is.

As a voracious meat-eater, I buy organic or free roaming when ever I can – grass fed when it comes to beef, I  frequent my local farmers market and I always try to trace back the provenance of my meat. Of course, this is rarely possible when eating out, unless of course you dine haute cuisine and have an endless budget. I don’t. Still, where I can I try and ensure that my dinner has had a content life and a merciful death. This way I am morally at peace with myself and I know I’m not filling my body with growth hormones and antibiotics.

Coming back to the poignant tale of those male chicks, buying commercially available cage-free or even  organic eggs will not help their plight as most producers would have got their hens from the same chick-grinding sources. When it comes to producing organic eggs, what matters is that the surviving hens are fed organic, pesticide, antibiotic and fertilizer free feed and that they are raised outside. The fate of their unlucky brothers is neither here nor there.

Of course, there’s always raising your own hens and producing your own chicks and consequently your own eggs. Any male chicks can be slowly raised and will one day make a delicious roast. In fact, city chickens are becoming an increasing common sight. This way you can also source your breeding hens from local, independent farmers or breeders who practice a more sustainable, humane method. For more information, check out City Chickens.

The danger of being bombarded with images such as those on the video is that we may  become anesthetized to them. In the Eighties charities realized that images of starving, crying children no longer elicited the millions they needed because people became “immune” to them. Instead, they landed upon a new, fresh and once more effective image; that of the smiling, happy child, grateful and transformed by the beneficence of the viewer.

Lets hope that a helpless baby animal being obliterated moments after its birth still has the power to change the way we run our food system.


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  1. collapse expand

    Nadia, I think you already know my answer to the larger question inherent in your post (which is: yah, just stop eating eggs altogether), so I won’t get into that here.

    But I did want to comment on your fear of society becoming anesthetized to such videos. In college, I did weekly all-day video shows at our student center, showing a reel of slaughterhouse and other such footage, much of it very gruesome. I can’t tell you how many people walked by, looked, and reacted with little more than a smirk or a shrug.

    Being separated from the reality of food production – even by nothing more than a video screen – is enough anesthesia for far too many people.

  2. collapse expand

    Ms. Arumugam,

    First what exactly is the problem here? Is it that cute little baby chicks are killed? So? Is it any different than letting them live to be an adult then killing them? What difference does it make to you whether they are killed now or later? Dead is dead.

    Even if there were a problem, what is your solution? Let them live, to do what? Who is going raise these non-egg laying, much too-scrawny to sell chicks?

    The whole thing is a non-problem with a non-solution.

    • collapse expand

      The problem is the needless loss of life. Letting them grown to adulthood and killing them so that they be utilized as a food source would be a far more reasonable fate – don’t you think? My issue is that the system we have created to produce our food cannot accommodate that natural growth rate chickens which is the reason why they are being ground alive. I agree that there is a non-solution. But there is absolutely a problem.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand
    deleted account

    I suppose the first thing to say is that horrors such as this, of which there are too numerous to list, are standard practice in both animal agriculture and animal experimentation. Animal welfare laws state that animals should not be subject to unnecessary suffering. But, animals are property and are seen as nothing more than commodities under the law. As such, when deciding when an action constitutes unnecessary suffering, the law weighs the interests of the animals against those of its human owners. But as animals are commodities, all traditional and/or profitable uses of them are always deemed “necessary”. Even the most vital interests of animals are trumped by the most trivial of human interests. And so long as animals are property, this will never stop. No amount of “homegrown”, organic or free-range products can ever change this.

    It is astonishing how schizophrenic your views are on this matter. You say throughout the article that it is especially horrific to watch tortured animals struggling to survive and chicks being ground into chicken feed (yes, that is usually where those ground chicks end up). Yet, you consistently mention non-moral arguments as being on par with these moral ones. If the problem with these practices is moral, how could “wastefulness” or “contamination” be of any real concern?

    Worse yet is that you admit that killing chicks is wrong. Yet, you seem perfectly at ease with slaughtering older animals–even if they are raised in the same horrendous conditions you were just so horrified by. I suppose to be consistent you could claim that grinding up chicks is not wrong, but given what you have written, that would just be dishonest.

    There are a lot of other things I could say about why I think these kinds of views about the moral status of animals are seriously backwards that I dont have time to write about. What I will say is this. You claim killing chicks is wrong. Whatever it is that makes this wrong, namely, causing death and pain to sentient creatures, means that you are committed to the view that all animal use is wrong. Yet, you glibly discredit the idea that one might actually refuse to eat animal products altogether, as if veganism is only for lunatics or ascetics. But, veganism is amazingly easy and healthy, despite all the misinformation surrounding it and crazies such as PETA (and Mercy For Animals, who, for all their moralizing, actually slaughter animals themselves to get this footage, the height of moral schizophrenia) touting it.

    It is unfortunate that views such as this about the moral status of animals and veganism are so widespread. But I guess I should not be surprised when footage such as this, which is WIDELY available and well publicized, shocks people. The fact that it is shocking is even stranger when people who know that I am vegan have never taken it upon themselves to find out why.

    • collapse expand

      Peter, I absolutely take your points and yes I do concede to a degree of “schizophrenia”. However, I don’t believe my arguments to be as wholly inconsistent as you make out. Yes, I don’t appreciate animals suffering, which is why, as I mention in my post, I seek out cage-free eggs, organic pasture-raised chickens and organic – grass fed beef. While I am completely reconciled to the fact that those animals will eventually die to feed me, I make substantial efforts to ensure that their lives and death were relatively pain-free through my retail choices. No,” I’m not perfectly at ease” with slaughtering older animals who in the same horrendous conditions which is why I state most explicitly in my post that I don’t buy mass-produced, factory raised meat. As for the slaughtering process itself – I have been into a number of slaughterhouses and I am comfortable that the actual process itself is quick and relatively pain-free. No, it’s never going to be entirely without pain, again, I am reconciled to that.

      I still stand by the notion that there is no justification for wasting “calories”. I didn’t know that the chicks eventually found their way to chicken feed – so yes, perhaps this “practical” purpose can be justified. As to the “horror” I feel watching baby chicks being thrown into a grinder, you’re right, in some way this probably renders me hypocritical. But, Peter, I never said that I was without emotions or feelings, I am merely a meat-eater.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    Confused, perhaps. Well fed, definitely. A Malaysian of Tamil ethnicity, raised in London and now living in New York, I couldn’t have asked for a better culinary heritage. My Sunday roast is massaged with garlic, ginger and red chilies. My chicken soup is infused with heady coriander and the warmth of toasted cumin. My meatballs are transformed by a spattering of my mother’s curry powder and a glug of soy sauce.

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