In a drastic change from current industry practices, United Egg Producers, an organization that accounts for roughly 95 percent of the egg production in the U.S., has agreed to stop grinding up millions of male chicks while they're still alive, the Huffington Post reported Friday.

Culling—the process of reducing the population of an animal by selective slaughter—is done to rid the egg farmers of male chicks. According to the Huffington Post, male chicks are essentially useless to the farmers, and cannot be farmed for meat due to the specificity of their breading. Only a few hours old, the male chicks are generally thrown into "high-speed grinders similar to woodchippers," where their spinal chords are severed or suffocated while they're still breathing. The controversial process has long been a target of the Humane League, the animal protection service that negotiated the agreement. 

“Egg layers are bred to be egg laying machines who can pump out hundreds of eggs each year,” David Coman-Hidy, the executive director of the Humane League, told the Huffington Post on Friday. “On the other hand, broilers are bred to be grotesquely large, growing to a huge size within one month—this is like having a toddler that weighs hundreds of pounds—when they are slaughtered. This leaves the male laying breed as the odd man out—too small to be really profitable to raise for meat and unable to lay eggs.”

The shift in procedure was made possible by a new process called "ovo-sexing" that can predict the sex of a chick before it hatches. With ovo-sexing, a needle is stuck into an egg in order to determine differences in DNA, and a commercially available version of the technology could potentially impact hundreds of millions of chicks. 

"United Egg Producer's decision to end its support of shredding and suffocating baby male chicks is historic, as it will virtually eliminate this practice in the American egg industry," the Humane League's director of campaigns, wrote in a blog post titled "Victory!" on Thursday. Though this is not an issue that many people are aware of, The Humane League is proud to have played such a pivotal role in doing away with this barbaric convention and to help pave the way to a more humane future. It is clear that chick culling will soon be a thing of the past in the United States."

Though it could take until 2020 for ovo-sexing to become commercially available—and the egg and poultry industries are often said to be riddled with a litany of abuses—animal rights activists feel this is a big step in the right direction.

"It’s an indicator that society is coming to recognize that farmed animals have lives," Coman-Hidy said. "[T]hey feel pain and that they matter.”

[via Huffington Post]