Egg industry responds to 'Hatchery Horrors' video
"The footage you are about to see was recorded with a hidden camera at Hy-Line hatchery in Iowa, the world's largest hatchery for egg-laying breed chicks," the narrator begins.
Footage follows of chicks being "roughly" sorted by sexers who separate the male chicks from the females. The females have their heads clamped and a portion of their beaks removed by a laser.
The males aren't as lucky. A machine, which resembles an auger, appears to grind the male chicks.
"These male chicks are worthless to the industry because they will not lay eggs and will not grow large or fast enough to be raised profitably for meat," the narrator says. "These male chicks are killed by being dropped into a grinding machine while still alive."
Such killing methods are standard within the industry, the narrator maintains. Nearly 150,000 male chicks meet their deaths this way each day at the facility, Mercy for Animals suggests.
"Please remember these chicks the next time you sit down to a meal," the narrator concludes. "You can help end this needless cruelty by adopting a compassionate, vegan diet."
Kevin Vinchattle, the executive director of the Iowa Egg Council and CEO of the Iowa Poultry Association also believes people should put some thought into their food choices.
"We believe in freedom of choice," he said. "People can choose to include things in their diet -- whatever they want -- but it ought to be based on rational information and not on cause-driven agendas."
Vinchattle also agrees that male chicks have no use at an egg-laying chicken hatchery.
"The reality of egg production is that only the females lay the eggs," Vinchattle said. "The chicks that become the hens that produce the eggs that Hy-Line is producing -- they're not pets and they're not exotic poultry. So, they're bred for a specific purpose in producing eggs and the males don't. There's really no purpose for them."
He added: "If somebody wants to take care of them, they're going to have to feed them and house them. That's going to be quite an expense."
Hy-Line issued a statement in response to the Mercy for Animals video. In it, the company said it continues to monitor hatchery procedures and provides on-going training to its staff at the Spencer plant.
Some of the hatchery procedures, described as instantaneous euthanasia for the male and unhealthy-looking chicks may look cruel but, are "supported and approved by the animal veterinary and scientific community."
Other hatchery procedures, including chicks that were scalded and still alive, or appeared to be left on the floor to die, are being reviewed by the company.
"We have initiated an immediate investigation of the entire situation, although it would have been more beneficial had we been aware of the potential violation immediately after it occurred," the company's statement said.
"I think Hy-Line is a top-notch firm," Vinchattle said. "They're a leading firm in layer genetics, not only in this country, but internationally. I don't believe for a minute that they are doing anything except for trying to do everything the right way using approved methods and procedures. It, again for me, raises a red flag as to why that video is the way it is."
Vinchattle wants to know who took the video and when it was taken.
"This wouldn't be the first time that somebody has gone into an animal operation and alleged things through video," Vinchattle said.
He also wonders why nothing was said sooner.
"The organization that put this out is an organization that wants us all to be vegetarian, so what is the real purpose of the video?"
***Video shows chicks ground up alive at egg hatchery *FREDERIC J. FROMMER and MELANIE S. WELTE, Associated Press Writers
DES MOINES (AP) -- An animal rights group publicized a video Tuesday showing unwanted chicks being tossed alive into a grinder at an Iowa plant and accused egg hatcheries of being "perhaps the cruelest industry" in the world.
The undercover video was shot by Chicago-based Mercy for Animals at a hatchery in Spencer over a two-week period in May and June. The video was first obtained Monday by The Associated Press.
"We have to ask ourselves if these were puppies and kittens being dropped into grinders, would we find that acceptable?" asked Nathan Runkle, the group's executive director, at a news conference in Des Moines. "I don't think that most people would."
The group said that tossing male chicks, which have little value because they can't lay eggs or be raised quickly enough to be raised profitably for meat, into grinders is common industry practice. United Egg Producers, a trade group for U.S. egg farmers, confirmed that.
The hatchery is owned by West Des Moines-based Hy-Line North America and is one of many operations in Iowa, the nation's leading egg producer.
The video, shot with a hidden camera and microphone by a Mercy for Animals employee who got a job at the plant, shows a Hy-Line worker sorting through a conveyor belt of chirping chicks, flipping some of them into a chute like a poker dealer flips cards.
These chicks, which a narrator says are males, are then shown being dropped alive into a grinding machine.
In other parts of the video, a chick is shown dying on the factory floor amid a heap of egg shells after falling through a sorting machine. Another chick, also still alive, is seen lying on the floor after getting scalded by a wash cycle, according to the video narrator.
Hy-Line said the video "appears to show an inappropriate action and violation of our animal welfare policies," referring to chicks on the factory floor.
But the company also noted that "instantaneous euthanasia" -- a reference to killing of male chicks by the grinder -- is a standard practice supported by the animal veterinary and scientific community.
Company spokesman Tom Jorgensen said Tuesday an investigation was continuing, and once it's completed the company would release more information.
Runkle acknowledged that his group's ultimate goal was to get people to stop eating eggs. He said he believe many would refuse to eat eggs if they knew what happened to male chicks.
"The egg industry is perhaps the cruelest industry on the face of the planet," Runkle said.
Mercy for Animals also sent letters to the nation's 50 largest grocery store chains, including Walmart, Whole Foods, Safeway, Harris Teeter and Trader Joe's, asking them to include a label on egg cartons that says, "Warning: Male chicks are ground-up alive by the egg industry."
A spokesman for United Egg Producers called the proposal "almost a joke." Spokesman Mitch Head said Mercy for Animals had no credible authority, as well as questionable motives. "This is a group which espouses no egg consumption by anyone -- so that is clearly their motive."
Mercy for Animals estimated 200 million male chicks are killed a year, which the United Egg Producers also confirmed.
"There is, unfortunately, no way to breed eggs that only produce female hens," Head said. "If someone has a need for 200 million male chicks, we're happy to provide them to anyone who wants them. But we can find no market, no need."
Using a grinder, Head said, "is the most instantaneous way to euthanize chicks."
There is no federal law that ensures the humane euthanasia of animals on farms or hatcheries, according to Jonathan Lovvorn, vice president and chief counsel of the Humane Society of the United States.
The Humane Society also says that virtually all egg farms, even those that sell cage-free eggs, get their hens from hatcheries that kill their male chicks.
Hy-Line says on its Web site that its Iowa facility produces 33.4 million chicks. Based on that figure, Mercy for Animals estimates a similar number of male chicks are killed at the facility each year. Hy-Line did not comment on that estimate.
Runkle, of Mercy for Animals, said most people would be shocked to learn that 200 million chicks are killed a year.
"Is this justifiable just for cheap eggs?" he said.
As to more humane alternatives to disposing of male chicks, Runkle said the whole system is inherently flawed.
"The entire industrial hatchery system subjects these birds to stress, fear and pain from the first day," he said.