One of the agribusiness cruelties that has always made me shudder is the practice of killing newborn male chicks, whom egg producers deem as having no monetary value. Each year in the US, 200 million male chicks are killed shortly after hatching, and many of these birds are ground up in large machines called macerators while still alive. Taking these innocent babies, fresh from their eggs and searching for their mothers, and subjecting them to such a callous execution is one of the dirty little secrets of agribiz. The hens, meanwhile, are born into a bleak life of intensive confinement and suffering; they will most likely spend up to 24 months crammed into a battery cage and laying eggs for human consumption until, their bodies depleted, the hens will be yanked out of their wire prisons and slaughtered for dog food or some other low-grade chicken product.

HyLineChicksinCrateInspired to help these sensitive beings, activists from Mercy For Animals have been quietly engaged in an undercover operation inside the world’s largest breeder of egg-laying hens. At a press conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, today, Mercy For Animals executive director Nathan Runkle released video footage shot covertly inside the Spencer, Iowa, location of Hy-Line International. Taken with a hidden camera by a Mercy For Animals investigator who worked at the hatchery from May 20 to June 6, 2009, the disturbing video depicts newborn chicks being dumped onto a swiftly moving conveyor belt and hanging by their beaks in a de-beaking machine. But it’s the haunting scene of chicks being dropped into a high-pressure macerator that will probably upset viewers most. And rightly so: Each day at this Hy-Line facility, nearly 150,000 male chicks are grabbed by their fragile wings, separated from the females and tossed into chutes that eventually lead them to a machine that will tear their tiny bodies to pieces. Every inch of the way the baby chicks are fully conscious.

Keeping a detailed written record, the Mercy For Animals investigator reported numerous instances of inhumane treatment and animals denied food and water. “I saw a bloody chick on the floor slowly twitching and breathing,” he writes. “I asked a worker if the chick would live, and he told me to throw it away. Like every day, dozens of chicks from broken eggs were left to die in trashcans.”

Nathan says Mercy For Animals selected the Hy-Line hatchery for its investigation because it is the world’s largest and the conditions documented there ― including throwing, mutilating and grinding up live animals ― illustrate the harsh and brutal nature of the entire egg industry, which treats animals as mere egg-producing machines, placing profit over animal welfare.  “If egg producers threw, mutilated and ground up puppies or kittens in the manner they do baby chicks, they could be prosecuted for animal cruelty,” he said.

Several animal welfare experts have viewed the video footage and remarked on the cruelty exhibited by Hy-Line workers.

“The video depicts compromised chicks struggling on the floor,” observed Dr. Sara Shields, an animal welfare scientist at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. “Some are undoubtedly still alive after falling through the separation machine…. These animals are in need of immediate attention and should have been euthanized without delay or given care to assist their recovery. It is disconcerting that these animals are simply left on the floor with dead chicks and egg debris.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Karen Davis, founder of United Poultry Concerns, stated that “Based on the most up-to-date scientific knowledge of the neurological and behavioral complexity of birds, including chickens at the time of hatching, … my opinion of the hatchery footage I observed is that the chicks shown in the footage are experiencing extreme mental and physical trauma at the hands of the workers and in the devices of the machinery designed to mutilate them.”

Nathan also used the press conference to announce that Mercy For Animals will be sending letters to the 50 largest Hatchery_Warning_Colorgrocery chains in the US asking them to voluntarily require that all eggs sold in their stores bear a label that reads “Warning: Male chicks are ground-up alive by the egg industry.” These egg retailers include Wal-Mart, Kroger, Safeway, Costco, Albertson’s, Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s and Meijer.

“To the shock of most compassionate consumers,” Nathan said, “each year egg producers kill hundreds of millions of male egg-laying breed chicks at hatcheries because they will not lay eggs and do not grow large or fast enough to be raised profitably for meat. This is another violent and cruel side of the industry that consumers have a right to know about so that they can make informed and compassionate purchasing decisions.”

What You Can Do:

  • If you’re still eating eggs ― even “cage free” or “free range” eggs ― please go vegan. You’ll be amazed how easy it is to enjoy a delicious, nutritious plant-based diet. I bake all the time, for example, and never need to use eggs, thanks to the many alternatives now available. And who needs more cholesterol? For some great advice on going vegan, visit ChooseVeg.com.
  • Share this information. Most people ― even many ethical vegetarians ― are unaware of the cruelties behind egg production. The abusive practices at Hy-Line are common throughout the industry and, in the case of grinding up live male chicks, considered standard. Let family and friends know what’s happening by sharing this story with them.
  • Support the work of Mercy For Animals. This is an outstanding organization that relies on the generosity of compassionate people to help fund investigations like the one announced today.
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