Austria bans ‘senseless’ killing of chicks with new animal welfare rules

The Federal Government announced a new legislative package with stricter rules for animal welfare, banning the "senseless" killing of chicks, tighter rules for live animal transport and installing other protection measures.

Austria bans 'senseless' killing of chicks with new animal welfare rules
Austria announced new rules promoting animal welfare, including the end of "senseless" chick killing. (Photo by Zoe Schaeffer on Unsplash)

Austria’s Federal Government has put together a new set of rules for stricter animal welfare in the country, most notably banning the practice of mass killing and disposal of male newborn chicks.  

“This package of measures is a great success for animal welfare, which finally implements years of demands of animal rights activists,” explains Animal Welfare Minister Johannes Rauch in a press conference detailing the measures.

Rauch announced the end of the “senseless” killing of chicks. Instead, the minister explained that the animals would be culled and used as feed in zoos, saying there is a great demand and zoos have been importing meat for their animals. 

READ ALSO: Penguin rescued after being ‘kidnapped’ from Salzburg zoo

In the future, Austria will carry out “gender determinations” of the animals before they hatch to take “appropriate measures earlier”.

Rauch added that the “shredding” of chicks, a controversial culling measure, did not take place in Austria even before the new steps. 

Measures for cow and pig welfare

The present animal welfare package will end the uninterrupted, year-round tying of cattle from 2030.

For pigs, there will be an “incentive” to offer more space for the animals, with new and converted stables and cooling planned. Rauch said that the measures were a compromise and first step but that “we are not yet where we want to go”. 

READ ALSO: Austria to ban online ads offering pets for sale

The package also imposes new rules for live animal transport, including shorter transport times and a ban on transporting newborns. 

Most of the provisions will come into force from 2023, the minister added. The package will be officially voted in Parliament at the end of June. 

“Unacceptable”: Criticism from animal protection groups and opposition

Animal protection groups in Austria have criticised the federal government’s plan as unacceptable and a “weak compromise”. 

Pigs and cattle for fattening will still stand on full-coated soils, tail cropping and anaesthetic castration will continue to be common practice in piglets, and animals will be transported far too young and far too long, the Vier Pfoten group pointed out in a statement.

READ ALSO: Why Vienna is a haven for wild animals – and where you can find them

“There was not even a serious attempt to put an end to this cruelty to animals”, the group’s director Eva Rosenberg said.

Opposition SPÖ has also criticised the government plans, calling it “a mess”, according to Vienna Animal Welfare spokesperson Eva Persy. The NEOS parliamentary groups said the measures were “pure cosmetics”, and the proposals do not go far enough. 

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Heed the reed: thatcher scientist on mission to revive craft

Once upon a time many homes in the picturesque Burgenland wine-growing region of eastern Austria were thatched.

Heed the reed: thatcher scientist on mission to revive craft

But now Jacobus van Hoorne’s house is the only one in the entire neighbourhood with a reed roof. And to get it approved he had to do battle for two years with the local authorities, culminating in having to set fire to a model thatched house to prove that his home wouldn’t be a fire hazard.

“You are practically not allowed to have reed roofs in Austria,” said Van Hoorne. “You have to find a way around it, which took a long time.”

Buoyed up by his legal victory, the CERN particle physicist turned thatcher hopes to revive the ancient art as a part of more sustainable house building — particularly as his reeds come from the region’s UNESCO-listed salt-water lake. 

“It’s not just a natural raw material, but it also has great insulating properties,” he told AFP. “A roof like that… is only made of reed and (steel) wire. It’s completely untreated. You can just compost it and recycle the wire.

“The nature, the material, the craft. It’s just beautiful,” he added.

A reed roof lasts about 40 years, said the Dutch-born scientist, and unlike conventional materials whose manufacture requires lots of carbon to be burned, reeds actually help store it.

Carbon captors

Like straw and earth they have an almost negligible carbon footprint, said Azra Korjenic, head of the Department of Ecological Building Technologies at the Vienna University of Technology.

In fact, marshlands and moors where reeds grow are some of the planet’s main carbon sinks, surpassing even forests and grasslands, according to the 2015 Soil Atlas.

Yet one of the biggest stumbling blocks to sustainability is the construction industry, which favours prefab building modules over ecological materials, Korjenic added.

Current regulations and norms are also hampering the inclusion of natural building materials.

As Austria’s only master thatchers, Van Hoorne and his father are in high demand, and they also farm their own reeds locally.

But even that is not easy because of low prices and droughts which stunt the reeds’ growth as the climate warms, he said.

He and four other remaining reed farmers in Austria also face crushing competition from China, which has an 80 percent share of the European market.

With his customers for now mostly in England and the Netherlands, “shipping a container from Shanghai to Rotterdam costs around $2,000 — just as much as a truck from Austria,” he said.