Mercy For Animals

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2009:

DES MOINES–The Iowa egg production giant
Hy-Line North America admitted on September 8,
2009 that an independent audit found “animal
welfare policy violations” at a hatchery in
Spencer, Iowa, where a Mercy for Animals
undercover operative videotaped unwanted male
chicks being killed for two weeks in May and June
“But West Des Moines-based Hy-Line North
America said that it won’t release further
details,” Associated Press reported.
Summarized Associated Press writers
Frederic J. Frommer and Melanie S. Welte, “The
video 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.”
The Hy-Line hatchery produces 33.4
million laying hen chicks per year, according to
the company web site. Mercy for Animals projects
that the hatchery therefore kills a similar
number of male chicks each year.

200-235 million a year

Nationally, Mercy for Animals founder
Nathan Runkle estimates, about 200 million
chicks are killed each year at U.S. hatcheries.
Runkle’s estimate is significantly lower than
industry figures published by Poultry Times
writer Barbara Olenik in September 2003.
According to the Poultry Times data, the U.S.
egg industry then killed about 235 million male
chicks per year, plus about 170 million “spent”
hens, who were no longer productive egg-layers.
Almost all of the male chicks were killed
by live maceration, as the Mercy for Animals
video showed. About 111 million spent hens were
killed in U.S. and Canadian slaughterhouses in
2002, while nearly 59 million were macerated.
Olenick expected the volume of live maceration to
increase by about 21 million in 2004, due to
industry growth.
“The egg industry is perhaps the cruelest
industry on the face of the planet,” Runkle
said. “The entire industrial hatchery system
subjects birds to stress, fear and pain from
their first day.”
Thirty states, including Iowa, exempt
standard agricultural practices from prosecution
as cruelty. This, Runkle suggested, is “the
same as handing over power and authority to
chemical companies to decide what is an
appropriate level of toxic waste to dump into
nearby streams and groundwater.”
The Mercy for Animals video was
extensively aired by mainstream broadcast and web
news media, beginning September 1, 2009. It
was hardly the first major exposé of live
maceration, called by Vermont veterinarian Peggy
Larsen “just a fancy name for crushing and
killing baby chickens” in a March 2004 ANIMAL
PEOPLE exposé.
But the Mercy for Animals exposé was the
first with illustrative support that wrenched the
hearts of mainstream Americans. Said Runkle at a
Des Moines news conference, “We have to ask
ourselves if these were puppies and kittens being
dropped into grinders, would we find that
acceptable? I don’t think that most people
South Bend Tribune staff writer Lou
Mumford recounted the effect of the Mercy for
Animals video on Emma Burdett, age 10, of
Cassopolis, Indiana. After bursting into tears,
Burdett “launched a petition drive protesting the
practice,” Mumford wrote, “shortly after making
telephone calls to The Tribune announcing her
Last year, her mother Tracy Burdett told
Mumford, her daughter wanted to confront the
manager of a local store where she saw a worker
casually discarding two live birds. Wrote
Mumford, “Emma said she already has accumulated
more than 50 signatures from shoppers at Rite Aid
and Harding’s Market, some of whom told her that
disposing of chicks in such a manner should be
considered animal cruelty. Emma said she doesn’t
like eggs much anyway and she doesn’t intend to
eat any more.”
Iowa State University sociologist Paul
Lasley, co-chair of the Iowa Farm & Rural Life
Poll, also “cringed when he heard about” the
Mercy for Animals video, said Associated Press
writer Nigel Duara–but his concern was about
possible harm to the Iowa economcy from people
eating less eggs.
“When our parents made the decision to
send this cow or pig or lamb to market, it was a
sad day,” Lasley told Duara. “But it would be
sadder if we couldn’t make the payment on the
Noted Duara, “Animal rights groups also
oppose a variety of hog lot practices,
particularly the castration of hogs and the
removal of their tails without anesthetics.”
“Most people think their food comes from
a grocery store,” National Pork Producers
Council spokesperson Dave Warner told Duara. “In
processing food animals, there are things that
you have to do to get them there.”

Pulling back the curtain

That is precisely the point of undercover
videos, responded Humane Society Legislative
Fund director Mike Markarian. “Most people don’t
know how animals are raised for food and how
their animals get to their plate,” Markarian
agreed. “The more we can pull the curtain back
on these practices, the more we can have support
for reasonable reforms.”
Researchers from three Dutch agribusiness
research groups in October 2008 presented to the
lower chamber of the Dutch Parliament the
findings from an apparent first-ever survey of
consumer opinion about culling male chicks. More
than 60% of respondents disapproved of the
practice. The researchers told the politicians
that they would begin researching ways to abolish
it. Possible methods include identifying “male”
eggs before they hatch, and manipulating the
environmental factors involved in the gender
determination of chicks.
The Australian Poultry CRC research group
in January 2009 announced that it has developed
and patented a way to “silence the expression of
genes that tell the growing embryo to become
female or male, without having to genetically
modify the chicken.”
“Hatcheries, farmers, and most
importantly, ethically minded consumers will all
benefit,” said Australian Poultry CRC
commercialization and technology transfer manager
Lloyd Thomsen.
Live maceration was introduced for
hatchery use in 1937, and caught on during the
World War II farm labor shortage. The first
mainstream newspaper descriptions of the process
appeared in 1942 and 1943.
Not mentioned in the 2000 edition of the
American Veterinary Medical Association Report on
Euthanasia, live maceration was added to the
2007 edition after United Poultry Concerns in
2004 led an attempt to prosecute AVMA Animal
Welfare Committee member Gregg Cutler for
ordering that 30,000 chickens be thrown alive
into a wood chipper. The chickens had been
exposed to exotic Newcastle disease at a farm in
southern California. Workers who attended
cockfights in their off-hours were suspected of
bringing the fungal infection in on their boots
and clothing.
Says the Report on Euthanasia,
“Maceration is an alternative to the use of
carbon dioxide for euthanasia of day-old poultry.
Maceration is believed to be equivalent to
cervical dislocation and cranial compression as
to time element, and is considered to be an
acceptable means of euthanasia for newly hatched
poultry by the Federation of Animal Science
Societies, Agriculture Canada, World
Organization for Animal Health, and European
“Death is almost instantaneous,” the
Report on Euthanasia continues. “The method is
safe for workers. Large numbers of animals can
be killed quickly.”
The Report on Euthanasia cautions that,
“Maceration requires special equipment that must
be kept in excellent working order. Chicks must
be delivered to the macerator in a way and at a
rate that prevents a backlog of chicks at the
point of entry into the macerator and without
causing injury, suffocation, or avoidable
distress to the chicks before maceration.” In
addition, the Report on Euthanasia notes that
“Macerated tissues may present biosecurity risks.”

Upset in South Africa

“Some producers, such as Sun Ray Chicks
Hatchery in Hazelton, have found other options,”
reported Duara of Associated Press. “Sun Ray
owner Elaine DeGraw said her small operation,
which raises 8,000 to 9,000 chicks a week, gives
the males to raptor conservation groups. They
feed the chicks to injured birds of prey.”
Boskop Layer Chicks of Potchefstroom,
South Africa, “used to gas the chicks to death
and the carcasses were disposed of to lion
farmers,” but now kills the chicks by
maceration, attorney George Gibbens told the
South African Press Agency in August 2009, after
public upset resulted from videos taken by former
Boskop employee Kobus Van Zyl.
Representing Boskop, Gibbens spoke to
SAPA after portions of the Van Zyl videos were
broadcast by the current affairs television
program Carte Blanche. The video showed chicks
whom van Zyl said had been dumped into pits to
die. Van Zyl said that Boskop has dumped as many
as 70,000 chicks per week for 70 years. “Van Zyl
said sometimes it would take up to five days for
the chicks to die, mainly of starvation or
suffocation,” reported SAPA.
One of the three biggest poultry farms in
South Africa, Boskop Layer Chicks is owned by
Jan Serfontein Sr. and his son. The elder
Serfontein was formerly the North West Province
Member of the Executive Council for agriculture,
conservation and the environment.
National SPCA spokesperson Christine Kuch
“was surprised that we were so shocked about the
situation,” she told SAPA.

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