Egg industry responds to 'Hatchery Horrors' video

Thursday, September 3, 2009
(AP Photo/Mercy for Animals) In this undated image made from video and provided Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2009 by Mercy for Animals, male chicks are separated from females at Hy-Line North America's hatchery in Spencer, Iowa. An animal rights group is calling on the nation's largest grocery story chains to post warnings on egg cartons that unwanted male chicks are ground up alive, after videotaping the common industry practice at an Iowa egg hatchery.

"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.

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  • Obviously someone has too much time on their hands and I hope he is not getting paid to do this so called job of animal rights whatever.

    I grew up on a farm and know about life. We used to raise chickens. I would order so many pullets and would be given a cockeral for each pullet paid for. It would take at least 5 months to get those roosters to dressing weight.

    Becoming a vegetarian is not in the cards for me or my family. I enjoy fried chicken for Sunday dinner and am not going to change that either. Let's get real people this is not a perfect world and if someone wants it to be then instead of pointing fingers get busy and figure out a better way. Good Luck with that.

    -- Posted by omaopa101 on Thu, Sep 3, 2009, at 7:56 AM
  • I think Hy-line should start shipping all male chicks to the Mercy for Animals office in Chicago! Let the vegans raise the animals since they are so worried about their well being.

    -- Posted by deweyh on Thu, Sep 3, 2009, at 9:19 AM
  • I do not dissagree that the complaints are made by fanatics. However, I also heard that the grinder wasn't up to industry standards of killing the chicks quickly, or whatever. Then there is the practice of trimming the beaks. Now I could be mistaken, but didn't they ban that practice in California where there are more eggs produced than anywhere else? (Like I said I could be wrong about that) I'm not advocating free-range chickens or whatever. The chicken industry needs to survive, but why not look into at least a slightly more humane way of treating our animals? I don't mind paying a bit more for eggs. I also don't want to lose any Spencer jobs.

    I think this whole argument gets lost by polarized opinions. Why can't we find some middle ground?

    -- Posted by Molly Weasley on Thu, Sep 3, 2009, at 10:00 AM
  • does seem like a waste, I would hope a better use for the male chicks could be found

    -- Posted by Ervserver on Thu, Sep 3, 2009, at 10:41 AM
  • A grinder....I'm not an animal activist by any means.....but a grinder? I'm also not well versed in this subject either, but my question still remains. This is the most humane disposal of these animals....to grind them while they're still alive. To me this sounds really disgusting. I love fried chicken, I love eggs....but is it really necessary to use an archaic form of disposal as this?

    -- Posted by lastsonofoa on Thu, Sep 3, 2009, at 10:56 AM
  • I would say the auger is a vast improvement over the way the males were disposed of in the early 90's.

    Back then, it was a short trip down a conveyer belt to a 55 gallon drum with holes in the sides. Above was a garden hose that was on, to fill the barrel with water. Drowning and/or suffocation under other males is much more inhumane that the current system.

    As to the 'debeaking' - that is actually done for the safety of the hens. It prevents them from causing damage to each other via pecking.

    People really need to get a grip on reality and understand that we live in an imperfect world.

    -- Posted by Chunky_Monkey on Thu, Sep 3, 2009, at 12:56 PM
  • After reading about this horrendous practice, I made a decision to buy eggs from a nearby farm, and only buy free range chicken. The manager shows no remorse or concern about the chicks suffering.

    -- Posted by lauricullen on Thu, Sep 3, 2009, at 3:25 PM
  • Wow..came across this video last night and was just ASTOUNDED. I had NO idea. How could all the egg and poultry eaters out here not have known this was part of the practice? No more eggs or chicken in this household. I won't be a party to that 3rd world cruel nonsense.

    -- Posted by swanson12 on Thu, Sep 3, 2009, at 10:33 PM
  • Oh for pete's sake... what would you bleeding heart liberals prefer to have happen? You realize you are talking about hundreds of thousands of males (roosters) every year.

    This has been going on for decades - and there hasn't been a need for these males discovered yet. Don't you think, if there was a need discovered, this industry wouldn't have sold these birds? Bottom line profits increased from selling a previously unneeded by-product?

    -- Posted by Chunky_Monkey on Fri, Sep 4, 2009, at 7:40 AM
  • Think about this...if the trees, plants, and vegetables screamed when they are uprooted or esentially killed would you still eat them, because they are alive too. So for all those who have personally talked to these baby chicks that say they don't like being killed this way, are you frickin' serious?! You might want to find something else to eat because a green bean I snapped last night for supper told me it didn't like being eaten.

    -- Posted by sister_burton on Fri, Sep 4, 2009, at 10:05 AM
  • Heading to the store to pick up some chicken and eggs right now! YUM YUM!!! Just a few of my thoughts for anybody who is willing to listen. While going to the free range chickens is a good idea (It is a way better product)I would like to make a few points. The only reason free range chickens do not produce so many male chicks to be destroyed is due to the fact that we eat them. You see if we eat the eggs there are no males (or females just to clarify)to destroy. Where do the free range females come from???? In this area most likely from Hy-line chicks if not directly at some point in their ancestory. Bummer ehh? Oh and when it is time to dispose of that old "free" range chicken.......Well lets just say farmer Brown may not be any more humane than Hyline. Just sayin! I know that I am forgetting to add something about how you never see more than one or two roosters on a farm but hey you get the idea. Everybody have a great holiday weekend. And remember Thanksgiving is right around the corner. I know that I am patiently awaiting the newest propaganda message from the vegans at mercy for animals. ROFL

    -- Posted by deweyh on Fri, Sep 4, 2009, at 10:08 AM
  • Vegan isnt required, pay a little more and get good quality food. It didnt used to be this way. Humans raise chickens in their yards in Asia. It isnt like this. Why are you so upset that word gets out what goes on?

    -- Posted by PenniesMore on Fri, Sep 4, 2009, at 1:32 PM
  • Eggs are good for us; so is chicken. The employment of folks at Hy-Line is vital for them, of course, and for Spencer. However, when inhumane treatment of any living thing is discovered, the situation must be resolved. We no doubt have the technology to correct this unnecessary cruelty.

    -- Posted by indigo on Fri, Sep 4, 2009, at 4:46 PM
  • Is there a hiden agenda here?

    Here are my thoughts, just suppose everyone were to be come vegans as Mercy for Animals wants. Look at the unemployement this will create. No meat packing plants, no more truckers to haul the animals or finish product, no meat counter in grocery stores, no dairy cases, no feedlots just to mention a few that would lay off a lot of workers and there are other many related industries to the meat industry. We already have 10% unemployement, this would probably add additional 20-30% unemployement.

    Is this what we really want or is it recommendation from a few of these misguided individuals?

    I think there could be a more humane way to handle the discards.

    -- Posted by MemoriesMemories on Fri, Sep 4, 2009, at 6:06 PM
  • It makes little difference who eats who on this planet. We can attempt to place ourselves above the flesh eating part of the food chain, but never the less, we are all eaten by someone eventually. Why should the worm have all the good food? The suffering of one animal, human or otherwise is not lessened by the idea that it is going to be food. Shall we all stop driving cars, since that is the cause of road kill? Do we take down the wind mills since bats and birds suffer from their whirling blades?

    You will be food for something eventually, and if you are unfortunate enough to drop dead in front of Fido, your beloved pet, the mortician will need to hide the eaten parts if they don't find you for a day or two. Animals don't care if we avoid making a meal of them, they intend to eat us, given the chance. So get over it, enjoy what god put here for us all to consume, there isn't much human grief for animals consuming each other.

    Once this goes far enough even the plants will have rights. And where does that end, don't we kill weeds and bugs to enhance the size and quality of our desired vegetable and fruit plants? Shall we decide weeds and insects are also equal and allow them to have a good life as well? There is no end to the amount of suffering we can try to eliminate, except that it will make us all weak and CRAZY!

    -- Posted by A. View Point on Mon, Nov 16, 2009, at 11:51 PM
  • I am seeing a lot of comments here from folks who do not want to adjust their personal habits or look into what is a cultural norm. Much of what I am reading above is very similar to the arguments made against every social change movement throughout history. Kindness, compassion, non-violence are all threatening in a culture that is based in greed and lack of empathy. There is no need to have the "problem" of what we do with the male chicks if there is no demand for eggs. 95% of Americans identify themselves as "caring for animals" and yet, 95% of us take part in the needless imprisonment and killing of billions of land and sea animals each year. We can live our most compassionate values. We can take it beyond words to our choices and our actions. Yes, everyone is somebody's lunch. Death is part of life. And, we can choose each day, each moment to do the least harm.

    -- Posted by Raesikora on Sun, Apr 5, 2015, at 1:27 PM
  • The problem isn't "how" we treat animals, the problem is "that" we treat animals.

    If we asked any person "Do you believe it is wrong to hurt animals?" They would answer yes. "Using" animals for any purpose is violent and unnecessary. We can live perfectly healthy happy lives avoiding all animal use. In doing so, we actually live with the moral values that we already believe in.

    Veganism is a joy. The ability to be healthy, eat great food, wear trending clothes, go to great entertainment places and finally buy products that are not tested on animals.

    Learn more about veganism. Go vegan and educate others.

    -- Posted by frisbeeguitar on Sun, Apr 5, 2015, at 5:19 PM
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