Egg consumption reaches new high – animal welfare lags behind
According to surveys by the Federal Office for Agriculture (FOAG), the number of eggs produced and consumed has never been higher than in 2020. This is highly problematic in terms of animal welfare dignity: Not only are the chickens subjected to maximum performance levels for this, but they are also killed after a very short time. In addition, it is still common practice to kill the male chicks in the egg industry with gas.
April 2, 2021
The widespread opinion that the welfare of hens in this country is assured because of Switzerland's comparatively strict animal welfare legislation has little to do with reality. In industrial egg production, including most free-range and even organic farms, laying hens are in fact spent and sick after 12 to 16 months due to their laying activity, because they are bred for maximum efficiency. In addition, they enter molting around this time and therefore lay less eggs. From an economic point of view, they lose much of their profitability during this time, so the birds are discarded and replaced with young animals.
In Switzerland alone, more than three million male chicks, are still killed on their first day of life as they are considered “industrial waste” since they do not lay eggs and are thus worthless for the producers, and this number continues to grow. Since these animals are unilaterally bred for maximum laying performance, they produce little meat and are therefore not interesting for fattening either. Killing by maceration is banned in Switzerland since January 1, 2020, because it cannot be ruled out that maimed animals survive and subsequently die a painful death. However, the gassing of animals remains permitted, even though it is also highly controversial with regards to its conformity with animal welfare. Gassing is the most common method of killing chicks in this country.
A motion for a ban on the routine killing of male chicks is still pending in the National Council. The Federal Council is proposing its rejection with the questionable reasoning that the rearing of these male chicks for fattening is not profitable and that the hatcheries would therefore be relocated abroad in case of a ban. In this context, the Federal Council refers to the alternative methods for sex determination and destruction of the “male” eggs before hatching and considers it sensible to maintain the current system of killing the live animals until the new methods of sex determination in the egg are widely applicable.
From an animal welfare perspective, the Federal Council's argumentation
is unacceptable, because in no way can the purely commercial interests
put forward justify the suffering of the animals. This practice
constitutes a systematic disregard for animal dignity, to say the least.
The lives of animals in poultry meat production are no better. A survey published in 2019 by the Stiftung für das Tier im Recht (TIR; Foundation for the Animal in the Law) shows that broiler chicken housings which are labeled with BTS (short for: “Besonders tierfreundliche Stallhaltungssystem”, in English: particularly animal-friendly housing systems) by an animal welfare program blatantly violate the principles of the Animal Welfare Act – and yet they are legal. During their short lives, which only last about 35 days, the animals suffer severe health impairments such as respiratory problems, foot pad burns and leg deformities – all due to selective breeding and the housing conditions. In these sheds with up to 18,000 animals, adequate care of the individual animal is no longer possible. Even though animal keepers are legally required to take proper care of every single animal, the individual is lost in the masses. Many animals die in agony. In these factory farming systems, a mortality rate of up to four percent is included in the calculation, both by the industry and authorities.
Even though these “particularly animal-friendly housing systems” do not even satisfy the most basic needs of the chickens, BTS farms receive government subsidies for special animal welfare performance. In addition, producers are allowed to use the term "BTS" to promote their products. Consumers pay a higher price thinking that they are buying meat from particularly animal-friendly production systems.
The consumption of animal products like meat, eggs, milk, and honey inevitably involves compromises at the expense of animal welfare. How far they go is usually determined by the price. It is time to rethink and significantly raise the much-praised Swiss minimum standard. This standard comes nowhere near to guaranteeing respect for animal dignity. TIR advocates for the legal protection of animals and a consistent enforcement. However, it also strives to educate consumers about the living conditions of animals to thus enable them to make an informed decision with regards to the consumption of animal products.