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BERLIN (AP) — A German federal court ruled Thursday that hen breeders can continue to kill male chicks after they hatch, a practice that results in the death of some 45 million birds per year in the country, until new procedures to avoid doing so are in place.
The Federal Administrative Court ruled in a case involving a hatchery specialized in egg-laying hens that killed male chicks, deemed superfluous because they won't lay eggs and the breed is unsuited to raising for meat.
The hatchery was banned from doing so in 2013, but courts in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia then reversed that ban.
Germany's animal protection law states that no one is allowed to cause an animal pain, suffering or damage "without reasonable cause."
The federal court said Thursday a company's economic interests do not justify killing male chicks.
However, it said that techniques to determine chicks' gender in the egg should soon be available and hatcheries shouldn't be asked to change their practice twice in a short period of time — first being forced to raise male chicks and then to adapt to the new techniques.
Agriculture Minister Julia Kloeckner said that the mass killing of newly hatched chicks is ethically unjustifiable and "this practice must be ended as quickly as possible." She said her ministry was investing more than 8 million euros ($9 million) to support initiatives to make it unnecessary.
Environmental group Greenpeace called on Kloeckner to set clear deadlines. "She must ensure that the animal protection enshrined in the constitution covers all animals in agriculture," the group said in a statement.
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