Already banned in Germany and soon to be banned in France as well, the systematic killing of male chicks in the laying hen industry could soon come to an end across Europe. In Quebec, the big players in the poultry industry believe that “ovosexing” technologies – which make it possible to identify male embryos inside the egg – are not yet sufficiently advanced to put an end to the practice here.
Posted at 6:00 am
Daphne Cameron La Press
“It’s very, very new,” says Paulin Bouchard, president of the Quebec Egg Producers Association. “The whole industry in Canada, we’re a little excited about it […]. When the opportunity arises, the window is open and the tool meets our needs, it’s clear that everyone wants to go there,” he adds.
The male chicks are too emaciated to possibly be eaten and are unable to lay eggs. They are usually killed within days of hatching.
About 27 million male chicks are culled at birth in Canada each year, confirms Mr. Bouchard.
In mid-October, Agence France-Presse reported that European agriculture ministers were ready to consider a ban on “routine grinding” of male chicks in the European Union. Because some companies dispose of chicks by sending them alive to industrial mills.
At a meeting in Luxembourg, Paris and Berlin pledged to extend this ban to the level of the European Union, which is currently working to modernize its animal welfare legislation. Germany has banned the killing of male chicks since 2022, and France will follow suit next January.
This advancement is possible thanks to various technologies called “ovosexing”. The name says it all: It is about determining the sex in the egg. This destroys the fertilized eggs before they hatch. Several projects are still in the research stage. McGill University has been working on a project in partnership with Ontario egg producers for several years.
Two main techniques have been marketed in the market. The first involves drilling a tiny hole through the egg’s shell to collect “allantoic fluid,” which is then analyzed for hormone levels.
Another less invasive approach, spectroscopy, works in a similar way to an ultrasound. The eggs are illuminated with bright light, and sex is determined based on the color of the embryo’s down.
“When people tell you these technologies aren’t quite ready, that’s the reality,” says Jean-Michel Laurin, president and CEO of the Canadian Council of Egg and Poultry.
Easier with brown eggs
As an example, he cites “a major disadvantage”: The spectroscopy technology used in France delivers good results, especially with brown eggs. He points out that more than half of the eggs sold in France are brown, while the vast majority of eggs sold in Quebec are white. In addition, the stakeholders surveyed still consider the pace of identification to be too slow.
“It’s a topic that we’re obviously very interested in,” he says. “That is why we speak a lot with our colleagues in France, because we know that it is a country that is the most advanced. So if we were able to learn from their experience and then learn from that, then see how we organize, that would be ideal. »
There is only one hatchery in Quebec that produces eggs that become layers, the Boire & Frères hatchery. The company’s President and CEO, Éric Bienvenue, states that the male chicks there are euthanized with carbon dioxide, a process that takes five minutes, after which they “fall asleep peacefully”. The chicks are then used as animal feed.
“We, all stakeholders and even Canadian industry, are also very concerned about this process and are looking for solutions to improve everything. Although the technology is evolving, it is not mature or available in Canada at this time,” he said.
300 million number of male chicks exterminated in Europe each year
Source: Agence France-Presse