There is a new “advancement” in agricultural science and it is “no-kill” eggs. As always with these supposedly humane advancements, the purported reduction of harm does not mean that there is no other death sentence or continued needless exploitation awaiting. In this case, male chicks will not be slaughtered because they will never be born (no doubt, a very good thing), but their mothers will continue to be exploited for their reproductive functions, their sisters will be born to join their mothers in the exploitation and all these females will continue to be slaughtered as soon as they become too old to lay eggs. Also, as always, the reason for these advancements is not a sense of justice – because that can only mean going vegan – but is primarily driven by economics: to increase margins and profits, and, to a lesser extent, to ease consumer squeamishness over the notion of killing live chicks or, in other words, to make us feel better and continue to sell.
The “no-kill” technique involves scanning eggs by laser and air pressure, nine days after they have been fertilised, and determining their sex. If the egg would develop into a male chick, it is disposed of before it is born. This admittedly very ingenious process, avoids having to destroy – either by suffocation or by being shredded alive – the 4 to 6 billion male chicks that are born (and slaughtered) annually in global hatcheries. They are slaughtered because they are “useless”. They cannot be sold either alive or dead.
Nothing at all changes for their mothers and sisters. They are exploited and killed because they are female and they produce a product we want and that we have no need to consume. Our only reason to consume eggs or any animal product is that they taste good. Our taste buds, apparently, trump their lives.
Some are heralding this technique as a step forward in compassionate animal agriculture, but, in reality, it is only a measure to increase profitability. The hatchery will no longer have the PR problem with, and running expense of, disposing of the dead male chicks; it will create a premium product and charge more for the eggs, and will be able to use the meaningless term “sustainable” to influence consumers to purchase its more expensive eggs. Neither compassion nor justice is relevant here because if either were, then the only answer would be to stop consuming chickens and eggs.
There is a less addressed issue wrapped up in this too. Many of us, vegan or not, focus on whether an animal is treated well, including killed well/humanely (a contradiction of terms, obviously). We do not want them to be treated poorly, even though we will eventually kill them for food. As vegans, when we focus on treatment (such as male chicks being killed, baby cows staying with their mums for an hour/day/at all, larger crates, enriched environments, etc.) rather than focus on whether any use at all is justified, we actually create a false or confused narrative that projects to the nonvegan majority that it is ok to use animals so long as it is done humanely. Simultaneously, we also say that there is no such thing as humane meat. “So which is it?” the nonvegan will ask, and “What do you want? You’ve got the no-kill eggs/larger crate/free range. Now let me have my omelette/steak/bacon”.
Nonvegans have not yet made the connection that there is no morally relevant reason to distinguish between human and non-human animals when it comes to fundamental issues of life and death (let’s call this concept “morally relevant fundamental rights difference” for short; we will use it again below). They are confused by what we really want: the end of animal use. Sure the “wins” mean that there is less suffering – the male chicks are not born/killed, but everyone else… still exploited and dead.
If we want the end of animal use then that is what we should be discussing, explaining, asking for and being clear about. Businesses will do whatever is cheaper for them, and that includes all of the humane/compassionate reforms in animal agriculture (see for example, this piece on cages or this piece on fur). They undertake those reforms because it helps their bottom line. They get to that on their own. We do not need to be advocating for those. Businesses will also do whatever their consumers want because it is in their financial interest. So let us be clear about why going vegan is the only right thing to do and make more vegans.
Another way to think about this is by analogising to a human context, which applies because there is no morally relevant fundamental rights difference, as mentioned above. For example, would we advocate for fundamental human rights for a group of oppressed/exploited humans for half the year? Would we say, “I want no sexism. So I will ask for no sexism for six months out of a year! If they start there, hopefully, someday, whenever, they will eventually see that women are worthy of no sexism all year”. Would anyone – especially those affected by the oppressive or exploitative behaviour – take us seriously if we did that? Would anyone accept as ethical any technique that would justify continuing to exploit women as objects solely for their reproductive system?
All too frequently, we do the equivalent of this type of argument with respect to animals. When it comes to these issues, the animals have no voice.* They cannot hear that we are negotiating with their lives and they cannot object. We discount their fundamental rights to appease the nonvegan majority, in the mistaken belief that it will someday wake up to the truth: no animal – human or non – is an object to be treated as economic property and that we have no right to use them as such.
*This is the one exception to the obvious: Animals always have a voice. We are just not listening.
This website has great information on veganism and vegan advocacy materials.