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The conveyor belt of death: Secret footage shows how millions of unwanted British chicks are killed every year

Sean Poulter 3rd November 2010

This is the conveyor belt reality of the millions of chicks that go into Britain's egg farms every year.

Thousands of the fluffy yellow chicks will travel the conveyor belts of the hatcheries dotted across the country each day.

Half of these chicks, the males, are sorted and immediately discarded - either thrown alive into mascerating machines, which kill instantly, or gassed.
Undercover filming by the campaigning welfare group, Viva, has captured the every day reality of the early days of these factory farm chickens.

Once hatched, the chicks are placed onto a conveyor belt system to be sexed and sorted.

While the females will survive this initial process, their heads are placed into machines that will automatically clip away the ends of their beaks and inoculate them against disease.
In some hatcheries the tips of the beaks are removed using a hot wire.

This is done to ensure the birds do not peck and injure each other out of the frustration of spending their lives in cramped wire battery cages.

The same machine will inoculate them against various diseases common in the cage systems used on farms in Britain and around the world.
Even chicks going into other systems, such as free range, will have the end of their beaks cut off.

There was nothing illegal in the activities witnessed by Viva's undercover team, however the images demonstrate the reality behind the idyllic farmyard pictures plastered over supermarket egg boxes.

Viva is a pro-vegetarian organisation and would prefer people to turn their back on eating eggs. The filming took place at two hatcheries in this country in August.
At one, the male chicks are gassed in a machine before the bodies are then packaged to be fed to reptiles.

At the second the male chicks are picked up in handfuls and dropped alive into a mincing machine in a process known as IMD - Instantaneous Mechanical Destruction.
Even chicks going into other systems, such as free range, will have the end of their beaks cut off.

The official line of the UK egg producing industry is that this destruction method is uncommon.
However, the recent footage demonstrates IMD is routinely used by at least one major hatchery.

Both of these slaughter methods are approved by Government's food and farming department, Defra, and the Humane Slaughter Association.
Viva campaigns manager, Justin Kerswell, said: 'It is the hidden horror that the egg industry does not want you to see.

'For the first time ever in the UK, the egg industry's number one secret has been exposed: what happens to male chicks.

'In egg production male chicks are surplus to requirements, which means that they are sorted from the females in vast warehouses and then killed in their thousands at just a day or two old.

'Identical to the chicks you see on Easter greeting cards, these uncomprehending young birds are either sent on a conveyor belt to be gassed or thrown alive into electric mincers.
'Our undercover investigator has revealed the awful truth that underpins the British egg industry.'

He said: 'The female chicks don't get it much better. Roughly sorted from the males, they too are transported on a seemingly never ending conveyor belt.
'However, they are vaccinated and have the tip of their beaks cut off, which is potentially painful to these young animals.'

Mr Kerswell said the conveyor belt system in the egg hatcheries is not unique to the chicks that go into battery cages.

The same system is used to sort those which move to barn, free range or even most organic egg farms.
'It is an unimaginable waste of life – and all just to bring an egg to your morning table,' he said.

The actor Martin Shaw, who starred as Judge John Deed is a vegetarian and supporter of Viva. He described the footage as 'shocking'.

He said: 'This exposes the mass murder and mutilation of thousands of baby chicks – at the hands of the British egg industry.

'Supporting this cruel industry sees the continuation of the slaughter of male baby birds for no reason, other than their sex.'

The British Egg Information Service defended industry practises.

Despite the evidence of the Viva footage, the organisation claimed it was unusual to put live chicks into mascerators in this country - although not illegal.

It said: 'In the egg industry, on hatching, chicks are immediately segregated into the male and female sexes by feather colour identification. Obviously, only females lay eggs.

'In the past the male chicks were used for poultry meat but the broiler meat industry has now developed specific strains of chicken which grow quickly. The male chicks from egg-laying breeds are not suitable.

'It is therefore necessary to dispose of the male chicks using a method approved by DEFRA and monitored by the Government's Animal Health Agency.

'Disposal is normally carried out by exposure to carbon dioxide or a mixture of carbon dioxide and argon, which is quick and painless, following a Code of Practice approved by the Humane Slaughter Association.

'The male chicks then provide a valuable source of food for other species such as reptiles and birds of prey.'

It said hatcheries are required to have mascerators by law, but said these are mainly used to dispose of unhatched eggs.

'It is not in the industry's commercial interest to throw chicks alive into mascerators, although this is not illegal,' it said.

'Masceration of live chicks is common in other countries including the USA.'

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