Approximately 72 billion chickens are slaughtered annually by the poultry industry, but surprisingly, not all of these chickens end up being sold as food. Often, farmers cull chicken flocks deemed unusable for food production, such as male chicks – born with a target on them, due to their inability to produce eggs. Now, Italy is making history by enacting a ban that would make it illegal to kill male chickens just because they don't have what it takes to lay eggs.

The Italian ban will effectively stop the slaughter of 25 to 40 million boy chicks annually. Typically, male chicks are immediately snuffed. (Technology is not yet widely available to allow farmers to determine the sex of a chicken before it hatches.) The ban is expected to go into full effect by the end of 2026.

For two years, Animal Equality Italy has lobbied the Italian Chamber of Deputies to pass a culling ban. The campaign amassed 100,000 signatures to support its petition urging the government to take action. This new legislation will stop classifying male chicks in the egg industry as “byproducts” of egg production.

“This is very important news for chickens in Italy and is truly historic. We are very happy that Parliament has finally approved this amendment that regulates one of the most controversial aspects of the egg production industry,” Animal Equality Italy’s executive director Alice Trombetta said.

“Animals are sentient beings that can no longer just be considered industrial waste. The selective killing of male chicks that takes place every day will no longer be considered the norm, and institutions must now commit to this fundamental path for the progress of our country and animals.”

When Animal Equality launched its petition, the trade association of Italian egg producers, Assoavi, announced that it supported the incorporation of in-ovo sexing technology which helps manufacturers identify the sex of unborn chickens, guaranteeing that exclusively female birds are born.

Cullings in the Chicken Industry

Culling occurs when chicken or egg manufacturers deem chickens unfit for sale. Several reasons include disease, general “surplus,” and male chick births meant for egg production. Recently, several countries have initiated bans to stop culls and widespread slaughter. In January 2020, France announced that it would end the culling of male chicks by 2021.

France and Switzerland stood as the sole European countries to take action against culling until this February when Germany officially announced the banning of chicken culls in the egg industry. The government revealed that it would use similar in-ovo sexing technology to minimize the births of male chicks in the egg industry.

Within the United States, a petition urging the government to stop chicken culls has surpassed 50,000 signatures, although there has been little action alongside the legislation.

“Seeing these innocent newborns slaughtered so violently in the moments after they are born is too much to bear. Chick culling must be banned,” an Undercover Investigator for Animal Equality states in the petition.

The Real Cost of Cheap Chicken

This February, The New York Times teamed up with Mercy for Animals to release an exposé on the appalling conditions that chickens are raised. The Life of Chickens video unveils the truth behind poultry production, placing accountability on chicken and egg giants carrying out cruel practices. The video reveals both the poor treatment of chickens and potential health risks for consumers.

The documentary sheds a spotlight on the egg industry's "humane-washing" product labels that include "sustainable" or "free-range." These buzzwords promise ethical practices, but chickens remain in unlivable conditions. The video highlights how these chickens become more susceptible to disease, and therefore, more susceptible to unnecessary mass cullings.

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