The journey to more humane practices for livestock is much more complex than it seems.
Modern agriculture, whether industrial or not, is tremendously complicated, with all sorts of little techniques and operations that the vast majority of people don’t know about. France is taking some steps to end a few of the less humane ones, a move towards better livestock practices for a country that prides itself on its food.
The French minister of agriculture, Didier Guillaume, announced this week a couple of new changes to the way chickens and hogs are produced in his country, reports the Guardian. The biggest one is a move to ban the live shredding, or grinding, of male chicks.
There is currently no way to determine the sex of a chick in a way that’s fast and economical enough for large operations to use. As a result, these large operations end up with male chicks that they don’t want: The males tend not to be big enough for broiler chicken use, and, of course, they don’t lay eggs. In the United States, as in many other countries, the unwanted male chicks are killed as soon as their sex is determined, and it’s done in what seems from the outside to be a gruesome fashion: They are ground or shredded, alive.
The European Union has required since 2009 that this shredding technique result in immediate death for the chicks, so that they don’t have to experience any pain from the grinder. It is, in fact, the method recommended in the United States, considered less cruel than, say, asphyxiation in bags. But the practice is still controversial and, frankly, unpleasant for people to think about.
Late in 2019, Switzerland became the first European country to ban outright the practice of shredding male chicks, despite the fact, as reported in SwissInfo, that it was never used much in Switzerland. But France has a much larger poultry industry than Switzerland, so this new ban is a significantly bigger deal. Guillaume announced the banning of shredding in addition to asphyxiation, electrocution, or gassing; it’s unclear what the French method will be, although Guillaume said that research is progressing on newer, better ways to tell the sex of chicks before they hatch.
Guillaume also announced that the castration of piglets—done to allow them to grow larger, and to reduce a particular odor—must be done with the aid of anaesthesia. In the United States, using anaesthesia for this procedure is extremely rare, a fact that animal rights activists have protested for years.
These two new rules will go into effect by the end of 2021.