Animal rights activists on Wednesday released a film in which thousands of discarded male chicks are shown being ground up while still alive — cruel treatment which they said is typical of the modern poultry industry.
"These young animals are sorted, discarded, and handled like mere cogs in a machine," said the animal activist group Mercy For Animals in a press release.
The group said it obtained the film during an undercover investigation at the Spencer, Iowa hatchery, but said it shows the heartless treatment young chickens are subjected to across the poultry industry.
For its part, Hy-Line International said in a statement that its "number one priority is the care and safety of our birds and our employees."
"We have well-defined policies and procedures regarding poultry welfare and we are committed to meeting or exceeding all industry standards," the company said.
Hy-Line said it has launched an "immediate investigation of the entire situation."
"Following our investigation, if any violation of our animal welfare policies is found, the employee or employees involved will be disciplined per company policy, up to and including termination."
Mercy for Animals said nearly 150 000 male chicks who hatch every 24 hours are separated from females, and, because they are unable to be raised for egg production, callously tossed into chutes which haul them away to their deaths.
"They are destined to die on day one because they cannot produce eggs and do not grow large or fast enough to be raised profitably for meat," the group said.
"Their lives are cut short when they are dropped into a grinding machine" in which they are "torn to pieces."
"Over 30 million male chicks meet their fate this way each year at this facility," Mercy for Animals said.
The group said females chicks endure weeks of "cruelty and confinement at the hands of the egg industry," including having their beaks broken off and being crowded 100 to a box for shipment across the United States.
Mercy said the cruel treatment even occurs at companies purporting to raise "free-roaming" hens.
"These deceptive marketing gimmicks conceal the cruel and violent nature of industrial hatcheries and egg factory farms," the group's statement said.
The group called on US grocery chains to label eggs in their store with a label reading: "Warning — Male chicks are ground-up alive by the egg industry."