Inga Günther, managing director of Ökologische Tierzucht GmbH (ÖTZ), is committed to the rearing of male chicks. For her, animal and nature conservation is always to be seen in a cycle. This is in line with the ÖTZ, a co-operation between Demeter and Bioland.
Mrs Günther, are you a vegetarian or vegan?
No. I have never been, and I won’t be. I’m so close to agriculture that I know that animals are the source of life. Animal dung – especially cow dung – is infinitely valuable as fertilizer. Without animals I do not have it and therefore no fertile soil. The most fertile soils, the black earths, were created by large herds of cattle grazing on grass for many thousands of years.
I am not against vegans, I am only for the formation of an awareness of how things are connected. Almond milk and other vegan products can also cause great damage to the environment. So if you prefer to drink almond milk or soy milk instead of milk, it does not necessarily help to prevent the exploitation of the earth.
For almond milk, for example, huge monocultures are created overseas. These in turn are pollinated by bees, which are brought in large quantities to the flowering plantations for this purpose. When the flowering is over, the bees must be taken away immediately. Since nothing else is blooming in the area, they would starve to death in a short time.
With soy products, especially those not produced locally, many questions – keyword “rainforest clearing” – are also on the agenda.
Vegan justifiable alternatives to milk are in my opinion therefore only milk from oats or soya from domestic cultivation. Ecological and sustainable agriculture is a great cycle. Eating less animal products is certainly the right way. I am very grateful to the vegans for this, by the way. Because they shake people up and sensitize them to important issues such as factory farming and today’s purely capitalist agricultural system, which has gone completely out of control.
Which important topics are these for example?
For example, the killing of male chicks that are useless for egg production. To avoid this is one of the big issues in organic animal husbandry. We therefore breed dual-purpose chickens. The females lay the eggs, the cocks are reared and serve as meat suppliers. Both without high performance and therefore per se better for the animal. If each of us eats one or two roosters per year, then egg production without chick killing is possible without any problems.
An alternative to rearing is the In-Ovo-Selection. But you reject this. Why?
Because the currently used In-Ovo-Selection method can only detect the male chicks on the 14th/15th day of incubation and the embryos are already experiencing pain at that time. Therefore, they must be anaesthetised before they go into the shredder. In my view, it is consumer deception that all those who use this procedure now write “without killing chicks” on the package. Because that is really not true. The chicks are killed, only at the embryonic stage. That in turn means about 45 million eggs per year are wasted and animals that do not hatch because it makes no economic sense. Then the chicks should rather be hatched as before and killed on the first day and fed to storks, for example. So selection in the egg does not really mean progress but a step backwards – but politicians like to put it the other way round.
What do you think are the chances of the dual-purpose chicken becoming established?
The products of dual-purpose animals are more expensive for humans. However, the animal pays less because it performs less and therefore suffers less. Consumers need to understand that more animal welfare costs them more and that animals pay a high price for cheap products. Moreover, we must all learn to eat less animal products, then it does not matter if eggs and meat are more expensive for us.
The Corona crisis currently offers a great opportunity in this respect. Consumers are demanding more and buying more consciously. But we must not delude ourselves that the dual-use chicken alone cannot change the current system. Nevertheless it is part of the change. Banning the high-performance animals from the stables and employing dual-use chickens for this purpose does not help. There will also have to be changes in many other places.
There is currently a fierce discourse in the organic sector about how to deal with chick killing. For me, however, one thing is certain: in future, organic must always be with cock rearing. In-Ovo-selection is not an authentic solution for organic farming.
What is your strategy?
We will do our utmost in the coming period to organize as many cock breeding stables as possible. So that at least from organic and Demeter farms every cock can be reared. At the same time we need a good marketing of the animals. So we are doing educational work at all levels to ensure that the cocks can not only be reared but also marketed.
Why else should consumers buy organic land or Demeter eggs in future if it is not one hundred percent certain that no cock chick has died for this egg? As it looks, however, there will be no uniform solution for chick killing in the organic sector in the foreseeable future.
The Ökologische Tierzucht GmbH (ÖTZ) was founded in 2015 by Demeter and Bioland. The long-term goal of the ÖTZ is the breeding of animals that are especially suited for organic farms. Up to now the ÖTZ has focused on the breeding of laying hens and dual purpose chickens. In the near future, the breeding of cattle is to be promoted as well.
Next we need solutions to import less feed. What is currently being done is ecological madness. For example, since the BSE crisis – which arose because animal protein was fed to cattle, which are by nature pure grazers – it is no longer permitted to feed animal protein to chickens and pigs. They are omnivores and animal protein is part of a species-appropriate feeding regime.
But since slaughter by-products may no longer be fed today, they are incinerated or exported to countries with other legal regulations. To close this protein gap, we import soya in large quantities for chickens and pigs, causing irreparable damage to soils and ecosystems in other countries.
The only reasonable solution to this dilemma is to make the chicken back to what it is absolutely perfect at: recycling leftovers. Tons of bread are thrown away every day, whey and offal are disposed of, potatoes are fed to cattle. We have to learn to feed these “waste products” – as it used to be the case in the past – back to these perfect omnivores and thus close the nutrient cycle.
Another hot potato is the marketing of bull calves: how do you go about it?
Animal welfare starts where you think holistically. With male calves it is the same problem as with male chicken. The bulls do not give milk, so they are not needed, as they only put on very little meat due to the one-sided breeding for milk yield. In order to be able to tackle this topic extensively, a colleague was employed, who will now work on the topic of cattle breeding.
Which topics are next on your agenda?
It is important that the products based on our principles are clearly visible in the trade. Products with our logo “From organic breeding” are not yet available everywhere. That should change. To do this, we must continue to educate people about the connections and initiate changes at all levels.