Dyeing eggs has long been an Easter tradition, but it’s the dyeing of baby chicks that’s ruffling feathers in some states, according to a story in the New York Times.
The dye, which is often ordinary food coloring, is either injected into incubating eggs or sprayed onto hatchlings. Although hatchery owners say the practice is harmless, critics argue that spraying the birds with color is stressful and that dyeing the animals transforms them into novelty items that can be discarded when their colorful plumage disappears.
“These are living creatures and by dyeing them it would send out the message that they are more of a novelty than a living animal,” said Dr. Marc Cooper, senior scientific manager for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Dyed chicks — and sometimes rabbits — have been a traditional part of the Easter holiday in some parts of the world, but the practice has gone largely underground in the U.S. because many people view it as cruel.
Today, about half of U.S. states ban the dyeing of animals, but last month the Florida Legislature passed a bill to overturn the state’s 45-year-old ban. The drive to repeal the law wasn’t related to Easter chicks; it was done at the request of a dog groomer who wanted to enter pet beauty contests.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott must still approve the repeal, which would be lifted July 1, but the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida has asked him to veto it. In addition to allowing animal dyeing, the law would also lift a ban on selling baby animals as pets, and the organization fears that next year the state could see hundreds of dyed baby chicks on the market.
As long as the dye is nontoxic, experts say the birds’ health isn’t affected, and there are scientific reasons to dye animals. Wildlife researchers often inject eggs with dye to track birds in the wild, and teachers have dyed chicks for educational purposes. However, animal activists are quick to point out that dyeing baby chicks for Easter isn’t educational — it’s simply to make money.
"Our society is so technologically advanced, but when it comes to our relationship with other species, the reality is abysmal. Dyeing chicks for Easter is tragically one of the many ways humans degrade, harm, disrespect, objectify and commodify innocent beings. Farmed animals are the most exploited and enslaved beings on this planet," says Elana Kirshenbaum, programs coordinator at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary.
Animal groups say that in addition to the stress chicks can experience from being dyed, there’s also the likelihood of these birds being abandoned when they shed their fluff and their feathers grow in a normal color. Plus, hatcheries are only 90 percent accurate when sexing newborn chicks, according to Woodstock, so when people bring them home, there’s a chance they’ll end up with a rooster or two.
Roosters are prohibited under most city ordinances, so owners often release them or turn them over to animal shelters. Most municipal animal shelters can’t house roosters, so the birds are often euthanized.
If you simply must have a brightly colored chick for the Easter holidays, animal advocates recommend simply indulging in a box of Peeps. (You can even make your own marshmallow chicks with our recipe.)
Check out the video below to see 49 dyed chicks that the New York City ASPCA seized from a Brooklyn pet store in 2007. The chicks were placed at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, N.Y.
Also on MNN:
- Failed backyard farms lead to growing number of homeless animals
- What you need to know about raising chickens
- Instead of a chick, give chocolate this year, says our family blogger
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