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Killing one day-old male chicks, do we have alternatives (summery)-1


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Throughout the world, male chicks from layer breeds are killed just after hatching, as they are not profitable as regards the production of meat. The Dutch and European parliaments have insisted on research into possible alternatives to the killing of day-old chicks. In the present study we have investigated Dutch public opinion on the acceptability of these alternatives by means of discussions in so- called focus groups and via a public survey through computer-aided personal interviews (CAPI).
To inform the participants about the subject, a film was made to explain the current practice and introduce a number of technological alternatives that would prevent development of male embryos, as well as the possibility of creating a ‘dual-purpose chicken’ that would allow male chicks to be used for meat production.
The topics addressed in the study included the willingness of participants to pay a premium for eggs and chicken meat, were it necessary to prevent killing of male chicks. Focus-group discussions showed that many participants were unaware of the current practice of killing male chicks, and were shocked by this practice.
However, once informed, the participants seemed able to take various considerations into account and rank the alternatives. The alternatives ‘looking into the fresh egg (to determine sex of the egg and not incubate male eggs)’, and ‘dual-purpose chickens’ scored best out of all the possible alternatives, and higher than maintaining the current practice. ‘Influencing the laying hens such that they produce fewer male eggs’ scored the same as maintaining the current practice.
The use of ‘genetic modification to facilitate looking into the fresh egg’ scored only slightly lower than maintaining the current practice. Alternatives whereby developing male embryos die, or are killed, scored lower than maintaining the current practice.

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Killing one day-old male chicks, do we have alternatives (summery)-1

  1. 1. Killing one-day-old male chicks, do we have alternatives? Opinions of ‘the public’ about alternatives to the killing of one-day-old chicks Research for the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature Management and Food Quality October 2008 Summary and conclusions F. Leenstra1, G. Munnichs2, V. Beekman3, E. van den Heuvel-Vromans2, L. Aramyan3 en H. Woelders1. Animal Sciences Group, Wageningen UR, PO Box 65, 8200 AB Lelystad Rathenau Institute, The Hague 3 Agricultural Economic Institute (LEI), Wageningen UR, The Hague 1 2 Design and working method: H. Hopster (Animal Sciences Group, Wageningen UR) Advisory group: G. Albers (Hendrix Genetics BV), A. Butijn (NOP Kring Kuikenbroeders), M. de Jong (Animal Protection), P.Bours and E. Ganzevoort (LNV) participated in the advisory group. Film production: CB-Media, C. Brinkhuizen and L. van der Pol. The results of the discussions in the focus groups and of the public inquiry have been discussed during a workshop with F. Brom (Rathenau), T. de Cock Buning (VU), F. Stafleu (UU), S. Swart (RUG) and C. van der Weele (WUR). Notions from that discussion were integrated into this report.
  2. 2. Killing one-day-old chicks, do we have alternatives? Opinions of ‘the public’ about alternatives to the killing of one-day-old chicks Background and definition of the problem The commercial poultry industry is strongly specialised throughout the world. There are breeds that are specialised in laying eggs, others in producing meat. Because the roosters of laying breeds do not produce eggs and are not profitable in producing meat, they are killed when one day old. This happens throughout the world and is done with ‘common’ as well as with organic poultry. This specialisation and with this the practice of killing roosters have already existed for approximately 50 years. In the Netherlands 30 million hens are born annually which are used for the production of eggs. Because as many males are born, 30 millions male chicks are killed annually when they are one day old. This mass killing raises discussions. The Dutch parliament has insisted on research into alternatives, which will prevent that male chicks are born. In an earlier stage the technological aspects were described in the report ‘Alternatives to killing one-day-old chicks’, which was presented to the parliament in March 20071. Before the government invests in a possible direction towards a solution, the Minister of Agriculture has ordered a research into what solutions are considered societally acceptable. The results of the research into the public opinions about the current practice and possible alternatives are described in this report. Aim and working method To gain insight into the opinions about alternatives to killing the male chicks, intensive discussions have taken place with small groups of people (focus groups). Moreover, a public inquiry was instituted. To inform the participants about current practices and alternatives, a documentary film was made. While the public inquiry is a representative presentation of people’s opinions, the focus groups can be used to provide an insight into the thoughts and motivations behind these opinions. There were 6 focus groups, with 7 or 8 participants each. The most important criterion for recruiting the participants was sex and living environment (town and countryside). The focus group study was done before the public inquiry, because the former’s results were used to formulate the questions and to examine what information the participants of the inquiry need to form an opinion. The public inquiry was carried out through the internet. Twelve-hundred of the questionnaires were completed, these were used for further analysis. The results of the focus group research and of the public inquiry were discussed during a workshop with ethicists and stakeholders to come to a better interpretation of the results. How to read this report In this text the results of the research in the focus groups and the public inquiry and our conclusions have been summarised. Separate boxes describe the current practice and possible alternatives. The complete analysis of the discussions in the focus groups and of the public inquiry can be found in ASG-report 142 (in Dutch). The film that was used for this research can be found on Results Emotions, the plain truth and differentiation The participants were informed about the killing of male chicks by the film and were presented with eight alternatives, which should prevent that male chicks are born. These eight alternatives were subdivided into 3 categories: ‘looking into the egg’, ‘changing the hen’ and ‘genetic modification’. These alternatives were completed with ‘the combination chicken’ a chicken breed suitable for both egg and meat production. For a more extensive description see the adjoining box. 1 Alternatives to the killing of one-day-old chicks, H. Woelders et al., 2007. 2
  3. 3. In the focus groups people were shocked at first at the information about killing of male chicks. However, they did not stick to this initial response, and were able to discuss a broad variety of considerations. The entire story was considered complicated, particularly when they had to give an order of preference of the different alternatives (“my brains start to crack”). They often wanted more information, for example whether the alternatives were feasible, or the exact impact on the chicken. However, because the alternatives are in an experimental stage, such information is not available yet. The inquiry showed that 58% of the people did not know that roosters of laying breeds are killed right after birth. Half the people felt uncomfortable about the killing, while another 36% thought it bad or really bad. Fifty-eight percent of the respondents considered it useful to look for alternatives. Three technological alternatives were, in first instance, considered reasonably societally acceptable: 1. Examining a sample of a freshly-laid egg and not hatching the males 2. Influencing the chicken by environmental factors, due to which fewer male eggs are laid 3. Influencing the chicken by genetic modification such that eggs can be recognised as to sex No clear ‘best’ option After the participants determined their preferences within the three categories, they were provided with their preference per category plus two other possibilities: ‘combination chicken, where the males are used for meat production’ and ‘accepting the killing as is currently done’. The respondents were asked to order their preferences within these five possibilities. As to the first preference there was a clear top-five: Possible alternatives to killing male chicks In the study we have described a number of in principle possible alternatives. Only the alternative ‘looking into the egg, late embryo’ has been successfully carried out in the laboratory, but not on a practical scale yet. The other options are all in an experimental stage. Summarised the following alternatives apply: Looking into the egg 1. Examining a sample of a freshly laid egg and not hatching the male eggs 2. Examining a sample of an early embryo and destroying the male embryos 3. Examining a late embryo and destroying the male embryos Changing the hen 4. Influencing the hen by environmental factors, due to which fewer male eggs are laid 5. Crossing the parents in such a way that male embryos are not viable Genetic modification 6. Influencing the chicken by genetic modification such that eggs can be recognised as to sex (for example by a photogenic gene of a firefly) and not hatching the eggs with a male embryo 7. Influencing the chicken by genetic modification such that male embryos become female chickens 8. Influencing the chicken by genetic modification such that the male embryos die early In the research these technological alternatives were complemented with the options: 9. Accepting the killing of one-day-old chicks as is done nowadays 10. Less-specialised chickens, so that the males can be used for meat production (‘combination chicken’) The technological alternatives have a great impact on the level of the hatcheries, but do not really change the production of eggs and broiler meat. The combination chicken does, as the hens are bigger than the current laying hens and produce fewer eggs and the males need more time to reach the desired weight than the current broilers. Alternatives ticked as first preferences Looking into the fresh egg and not hatching the males Combination chicken Influencing the chicken by environmental factors, due to which fewer eggs with a male embryo are laid Accepting the killing as it currently is done Adapting the chicken by genetic modification such that eggs can be recognised as to sex % respondents 25% 24% 14% 14% 10% 3
  4. 4. Because the respondents had indicated the order of their preferences, we could take account of this order by weighing factors. Regardless of the way of weighing, ‘looking into the fresh egg and not hatching the males’ and ‘combination chicken’ were almost equal and had a higher score than all other options. ‘Accepting the killing’ and ‘influencing the chicken by environmental factors, due to which fewer male eggs are produced’ ended at a somewhat lower, almost equal score. ‘Adapting the chicken by genetic modification such that eggs can be recognised as to sex’ ended fifth. All other possibilities had clearly lower scores. Arguments for choices In the public inquiry we asked the respondents to indicate which reasons were important for their choices and considerations. To this end they were provided with seven notions, which had been mentioned frequently in the focus groups. These were: ‘animal-friendliness’ ‘feasibility’ ‘naturalness’ ‘ food security’ ‘males used as animal feed’ ‘moral considerations’ ‘costs’ For each notion an indication could be given as to importance in making choices. Animal friendliness scored high, followed by naturalness and food security. Animal friendliness was an often-mentioned argument in the focus groups. ‘Humane’ and ‘animal friendly’ were used indiscriminately. Killing the one-day-old chicks and destroying male embryos late in the incubation process were considered animal unfriendly; ‘the combination chicken’, ‘influencing the sex by adapting the environmental factors of the hen’ and ‘looking into the egg and not hatching the males’ were regarded as animal friendly. According to the participants in the focus groups naturalness means intervention with ‘nature’ or ‘animal’ as little as possible. This argument was used both to plea in favour of or against particular options. Many participants considered influencing environmental factors a natural method, whereas genetic modification was regarded as ‘unnatural’. The meaning of the term ‘naturalness’ is not the same to everyone, however. The participants have different opinions about how drastic a certain method is. One of the respondents, for example, indicated that influencing the environmental factors was a further manipulation of the nature, and those in favour of genetic modification differentiated between the various GM-alternatives depending on the extent of naturalness of the intervention. Also the risks for human and animal safety and moral considerations play a role, particularly in the discussion about genetic modification. For a number of participants the GM-methods were no option. Statements as ‘one bridge too far’ or ‘unethical’ indicate that moral boundaries are exceeded. These statements were, for that matter, mentioned together with the ‘unnatural’ character of genetic modification (“nothing is natural here”). This suggests that moral considerations are in line with the argument of (un)naturalness. More practical considerations, such as costs and feasibility of the method, price of eggs and meat, manure issues and the use of one-day-old chicks also play an important role in the focus groups. The higher costs of eggs (and products with eggs) and the manure issues Current method in killing the one-day-old chicks were important reasons for some participants to be against the combination chicken. Other participants The killing of one-day-old chicks in the Netherlands considered ‘looking into the egg’ a complicated usually happens automatically by CO2. The chicks method and GM a quick and efficient method. The go via a conveyer belt to a room with a high concentration of CO2, which causes the chicks to use of one-day-old chicks was an argument in favour become unconscious after a few seconds. They die of maintaining the current situation. How often these after several minutes. The dead chicks are used arguments were mentioned, however, they were not as feed for zoo animals and (predator) animals of always decisive. The fact that sex determination in the private people. Research has defined which mix of air and which concentration of CO2 lead to a quick late embryo can be realised in the short term, and can unconsciousness and death. thus be considered the most feasible alternative, does One alternative to killing by CO2 is killing by a not offset the aversion to killing the embryo. On the chopper, in which the chicks are killed within other hand the higher costs of eggs and meat with the tenths of seconds. This very quick killing method is preferable from an animal welfare viewpoint; the combination chicken did not prevent some participants disadvantage, however, is that chopping rouses from mentioning it as first or second preference. Lastly, aversion and that the chopped chicks have less it should be mentioned that a number of participants value than chicks killed by gas. have the opinion that the laying hen does not have a bright life. For some of them this was a reason not to think about these issues a lot. Others had the opinion 4
  5. 5. that the consumer should be far more aware of these practices. The current practice for keeping laying hens was, however, also an argument against the combination chicken. Costs and willingness to pay We have also asked whether one is willing to pay more for eggs and broiler meat. This willingness was more or less linked to the alternative one had chosen. Approximately 10-15% of the people were not willing to pay more, 50-60% of the people declared to be willing to pay 5 to 10 eurocents extra for an egg, if their preference was applied and 15-30% said that they would pay double the price or more. Of the people who preferred the ‘combination chicken’, approximately 40% indicated to be willing to pay the concomitant extra price. In the focus groups the costs and price were frequently discussed. A number of people indicated to be willing to pay more. Conclusions and recommendations Discussion within the context of the current livestock sector practice or beyond? Alternatives to the killing of one-day-old chicks can be discussed within the framework of the current poultry sector. Than, it is investigated whether one aspect of current practice, killing one-day-old chicks, can be improved. The issue of killing one-day-old chicks can also be broadened: killing the males is a symptom of the practices in the intensive livestock sector, which in its entirety can also be brought up for discussion. Whether the participants in the public inquiry started from the limited context, or brought up the intensive livestock industry in its entirety for discussion, we do not know. The focus group participants often made comments such as ‘the chickens do not have a good life’, ‘it can be questioned what is better for such a male’, ‘the combination chicken is a chicken as it should be’. It can be understood that the participants also considered the broad context and had questions as to the intensive livestock industry in its entirety. In the evaluation of the results of the research with stakeholders and ethicists it became clear that the choice of the context is also determinant for the preferences of solutions, particularly for the preference for the combination chicken. If the current practice is assumed, the practice of killing males can be changed in a relatively short term with the development of a technological alternative. However, in the long term a new discussion can be brought up about other characteristics of intensive livestock farming, where the combination chicken can possibly be a more structural solution to the lack of animal welfare experienced for today’s poultry, but would be a step backwards in sustainability as far as feed and energy are concerned. The research into alternatives has been set up from the current context and thus within the framework of current practice: are there any alternatives to the killing of males in the intensive poultry sector. The results, therefore, should also be considered within this context. The (un)desirability of the intensive livestock industry in its an entirety cannot only be discussed via the case of the one-day-old males, but the latter can certainly be used in this discussion. Given the signals from the society, a discussion about intensive livestock farming in its entirety is certainly in order. The research has shown that people need more information to be able to form an adequate opinion about the subject, but that they are very well able to think about the issue with the available information. In forming their opinions they seem to make complex considerations. According to the participants, the information by means of a documentary has supported the research strongly. With this visual support such a complex issue can be made discussible more easily. The subject at large and the alternatives to killing the males are complex and there is little information available on the different alternatives as to feasibility, costs and effects on the animal. This means that our research is a first contribution to forming an opinion and that the results are provisional. If more information becomes available on feasibility and effects of alternatives, the definite judgement can change, which cannot be predicted yet. The study shows, however, that many people are ignorant of the fact how male chicks are killed, but that, if they know, they feel uncomfortable about it. It is, therefore, useful to conduct further research into the feasibility of technological alternatives and to accompany that with a further evaluation and monitoring of the societal acceptance of such alternatives. Neither the public inquiry, nor the focus groups produced a clear preference for one of the alternatives. Some options can, however, be considered unacceptable. In general, killing of embryos is considered undesirable and destroying a late embryo is not regarded as an adequate alternative to killing the chick. Applying genetic modification is extremely controversial, although acceptance depends on the specific approach. If genetic modification makes it possible to be able to see the difference between males and females in a freshly laid egg, this seems an acceptable alternative. But if genetic modification makes it possible that male embryos develop to female chicks or that males die as embryos, this is broadly repudiated. Accepting the current situation, killing the males, scores relatively high, but yet people adhere to looking for alternatives. A limited number of alternatives qualify for further research. This research should relate to the feasibility and be accompanied by further research into societal acceptance. 5
  6. 6. The best or rather ‘least bad’ options are in order: Looking into the freshly laid egg and not hatching the male eggs The option ‘looking into the fresh egg and not hatching the male eggs’ has the highest score of the alternatives that can be carried out within the current poultry sector. Research into the technical feasibility of this option is recommended. It is estimated that a brief study is sufficient to examine whether this alternative is possible or not as to biological principles. The combination chicken The combination chicken can be attractive for a niche market, but will not be a solution for the entire poultry sector, for example, due to the structurally less efficient use of feed and energy. Influencing the sex ratio by adapting the environmental factors of the hen, so that fewer (no) male chicks are born The option ‘influencing the sex ratio by adapting the environmental factors of the hen’ does not score higher than maintaining the current practice of killing the chicks, but yet rather positive. Therefore and on the basis of further analysis by the project group (see box ‘Some alternatives reconsidered’), ‘influencing the chicken by environmental factors’ can be regarded as a possible alternative. Particularly, because recently researchers have indicated that the feasibility of this alternative is relatively high. Bringing a photogenic protein into the embryo by genetic modification, so that the difference between male and female embryos can be detected in a better way Although genetic modification as such is controversial, this alternative may lead to the possibility of detecting the difference between male and female embryos in the freshly laid eggs. 6
  7. 7. We (as the project group) have reconsidered some alternatives, where important values mentioned in the focus groups and the public inquiry have been used. ‘Looking into the freshly laid egg and not hatching the males’ Animal friendliness: positive, for the males are not born and thus not destroyed. Precondition is that the sampling of the eggs does not carry a risk as to health and welfare of the female embryos that are hatched. Naturalness: neutral, taking a sample from an egg and examine it is neither positive nor negative as to naturalness. Feasibility: scientific literature provides positive indications, but no hard proof that this would be possible; the experts indicate that in approximately 6 months it can be figured out whether the composition of a yolk from which a female chick grows differs from that from which a male grows. Costs: if the principle is feasible, robots and thus expensive equipment are necessary. However, costs of hatching capacity and labour decrease. Neutral? ‘Combination chicken’ Animal friendliness: positive, for the roosters of such a breed have fewer leg and heart problems than today’s broilers and as a parent animal such breed need not be put on rations, which is current practice in broiler parent stock. If the farming conditions of laying hens do not change and are qualified as disagreeable, more hens are to be subjected to those circumstances, however, for a same egg production. Naturalness: positive, for also the roosters have a time to live. A combination chicken also looks ‘natural’. Feasibility: realistic for a niche market, not as a substitute for the entire poultry production. Costs: considerably higher, because the hens need more feed and room per egg than the current laying hens and the roosters as broilers need more feed and time per kg/chicken than the current broilers. At similar egg and meat production, the need for raw material is doubled and also more manure, dust and ammonia are produced per unit of product. ‘Influencing the sex ratio by adapting the environmental factors of the chicken’ Animal friendliness: depends on the influencing factors. If a light scheme is used or a particular feed composition, the animal friendliness is not at issue, but if hormone injections are needed, it does. For the chicks neutral to positive. Naturalness: depends on the influencing factors. The principle as such is natural. Feasibility: the principle has been proved, but whether a full 100% of females can be reached remains the question Costs: in principle fewer costs than in the current practice. If almost no males are born, this will lead to considerable savings in the hatching industry. ‘Genetic modification’ Animal friendliness: negative due to laboratory animals that are needed to develop the method; positive in realisation. Naturalness: genetic modification is regarded as ‘unnatural’, though not by all people. Feasibility: not much can be said about the technical feasibility at this stage; at the moment research on genetic modification for this goal is prohibited in the Netherlands. Costs: if a stable insertion can be reached, costs are low. ‘Looking into the egg, early or late embryo’ Animal friendliness: the earlier the detection of the sex and thus killing the male embryos, the more animal friendly the method is. Focus groups and public inquiry indicate that killing embryos is not a pleasant thought. Naturalness: neutral, but less than ‘fresh egg’. Feasibility: from day 13 of the hatching process it has been proved that a reliable distinction can be made between male and female embryos. The technique of sexing late embryos from approximately day 16 is available in principle (and patented), but not used in practice. From approximately 4 days of incubation, a difference in gene expression between male and female embryos starts, after which time in principle (blood) cells can be sampled and a distinction could be made. Costs: comparable to ‘fresh egg’; decrease in costs in the hatchery is less, however. ‘Crossing the chicken, so that male embryos die’ Animal friendliness: comparable to killing the embryos after sexing. Also dependent on possible side effects of the lethal genes in hens. Naturalness: in principle, it is an entirely natural process; focus groups and the public inquiry consider this as manipulation and unnatural, however. Feasibility: with the current knowledge of the genomics of the chicken, looking for likely genes is well possible. To what extent this can be successful in a crossing programme should be investigated further. Costs: if there are no or almost no side effects in the hens (precondition), the costs are minor. 7