Dyed Easter Chicks Create Controversy

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The birds’ colorful fluff is created by either injecting dye into incubating eggs or spraying it onto the chicks’ feathers. . Thitikorn MVP Suksao/Shutterstock

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. In 2012, 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. But the ban was restored the following year, with the exception that groomers are allowed to dye dogs. As with the former Florida law, the new ban also prohibits the sale of young chicks, bunnies and ducklings.

"Once again, bunnies, chicks and ducklings are protected from neglect or abandonment," said Don Anthony, spokesman for the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, based in Fort Lauderdale. "It does allow groomers to color dogs. It was a good tradeoff."

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 gelatin-free 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.