“The law is overdue”

Federal Agriculture Minister Julia Klockner wants to ban the killing of male chicks by law. For this she earns praise from the Linz moral theologian Michael Rosenberger. Because the industry ignores alternatives – even though they are good ones.

Interviewer: Is this move by German Agriculture Minister Klockner an educational measure for the industry?

Prof. Michael Rosenberger (moral theologian and prorector of the Catholic Private University of Linz): No, it's not about education. Education is a matter for those responsible in educational systems, parents and so on.

The point of a legal measure in this area is to give the animal some protection. Our animal protection law stipulates that there must be no killing of animals without reasonable cause. Moreover, that this killing does not happen cruelly and does not cause unnecessary suffering and pain. Both are no longer given in the present case in the meantime. So we have no more reasonable reason, because there are also alternatives. And that is why it is overdue that something is done by law.

Interviewer: In 2019 alone, more than 45 million chicks are said to have been shredded alive or gassed. And the reason behind it is lack of economy: male chicks are a by-product, or?

Rosenberger: Exactly. So it is. It simply costs more to raise the male chicks and let them live. That is quite clear. In recent decades, there have been developments in agriculture, where the breeding of animals has become more and more specialized, for maximum performance and a maximum yield. And that means we have bred the animals – the laying hens – so high that they are no longer able to serve for two different uses. Namely at the same time to lay eggs – the female animals. And for meat consumption – the male animals.

The situation used to be like that, of course. But we have increased the maximum yield of eggs. A laying hen gives practically every day an egg today. That was much less the case a few decades ago. And now that just means that the male animals don't put on as much meat, and therefore they're not attractive for meat consumption.

Interviewer: There are alternatives that could circumvent shredding. For example, sex determination already in the egg. Or the so-called two-use chicken. So male animals would actually also be fattened up. Are these conceivable alternatives for you?

Rosenberger: These are conceivable alternatives. Sex determination is not yet completely certain. Not yet completely reliable. But it is close to reliability. And here, of course, it would also be necessary for the farms to take care of this by using this method in order to increase reliability and accuracy. This is only possible if you have large numbers and if you use them accordingly.

The second: That would be of course the much better still – the so-called two-use chicken. So where you take the step back again, to the situation as we had it fifty to sixty years ago quite naturally. That chicken breeds can be bred that can do both and do both quite well. Both lay a perfectly passable number of eggs and can also serve as meat – especially the males.

That would be the best situation, of course, because even with sex determination in the egg, you can then discard the egg after nine days. And then already a small animal grows.

Interviewer: The Central Association of the Poultry Industry, for example, is now also saying that all this is pointless. It is simply further shredded abroad. What is your assessment?

Rosenberger: Well, that could theoretically happen that the production shifts abroad. I think, on the one hand, it will be important to promote the measure among the people.

On the other hand, it will also be important for us to consider how far we in Europe, for example, place barriers on the outside of standards. There is the right of states to also impose an import duty if products from abroad are inferior to those at home due to ethical beliefs. Even if this then makes the price difference. In this way, one could theoretically protect domestic producers.

Interviewer: So everyone has to take responsibility. How can each individual do this?

Rosenberger: We can already buy those eggs that are actually produced in such a way that the male chicks are allowed to live. There is a whole quantity of initiatives, which are already offered in the food trade. They run under keywords, such as brother-cock, brother-heart, chicken, brother-chick and so on. So a whole lot of such initiatives.

These eggs are on the market. They just cost a few cents more than the other eggs. It is the responsibility of consumers to be prepared to pay these few cents more.

The interview was conducted by Verena Troster

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