Sometimes it feels like things will never change for animals in factory farms — but today is not one of those days.
In a move animal advocates are calling "historic," the United Egg Producers (UEP), which represents 95 percent of egg producers in the U.S., has announced it will end "chick culling" by 2020, or as soon as it is feasible.
"United Egg Producers (UEP) and our farmer-members have an obligation to study and adopt practices that improve animal welfare," Chad Gregory, president and CEO of the UEP, said in a press release. "Our members recognize that this extends to the practice of male chick culling at hatcheries."
Currently, 250 million lives are wasted by the egg industry each year, since it has no use for chickens who don't lay eggs — and that means male chicks. Traditionally, factory farms have simply shredded or suffocated the baby animals just after they're born.
But this new decision "will virtually eliminate this practice in the American egg industry," according to The Humane League.
"This statement came from months of negotiations and meetings with the UEP," David Coman-Hidy, executive director of The Humane League, told The Dodo. "Of course, this agreement followed years of successful campaigning to abolish battery cages."
Battery cages are cramped spaces where chickens can hardly move. The Humane League rallied against the practice, and won: Over 150 companies, including Walmart, Kroger, Sodexo, ConAgra and Denny's made commitments to stop sourcing eggs from farms that use these cages.
The Humane League approached the UEP early in 2016 to talk about ending chick culling. They came up with a solution: Egg producers will implement a new technology called "embryo-sexing technology," invented by German scientists, that determines the sex of each egg before the chick develops, eliminating male chicks from being born just to die.
"UEP and our egg farmer members support the elimination of day-old male chick culling after hatch for the laying industry," the organization said in a statement. "We are aware that there are a number of international research initiatives underway in this area, and we encourage the development of an alternative with the goal of eliminating the culling of day-old male chicks by 2020 or as soon as it is commercially available and economically feasible … [A] breakthrough in this area will be a welcome development."
Germany was the first country to announce an end to the practice last year. The country's egg industry had been throwing away the lives of 45 million newborn chicks per year. In the U.S., at least 500,000 chicks are culled per day.
"We are currently looking to work with other countries to implement similar timelines so that we can eliminate this practice globally," Coman-Hidy said.
As it is, today, animal lovers everywhere can breathe a huge sigh of relief.
Correction: A previous version of this article said that 6,000 chicks are culled in the U.S. each day; in fact, that number is 500,000.
Check out a video about Mumble, a very special pet chicken: