Scientists in Germany have figured out a way to identify male eggs prior to hatching, which eliminates need for live culling.
The world's first kill-free chicken eggs are now for sale in Germany, laid by hens that were bred without killing any male chicks. A breakthrough process has been created by German scientists to identify the gender of an egg on the ninth day of its incubation, eliminating the need to cull male chicks after hatching.
Male chicks have been a long-standing problem for modern poultry farmers. Because male chickens cannot lay eggs and do not gain weight as rapidly as female, they are always killed after hatching, usually by suffocation or live shredding. Their remains are processed into reptile feed. Approximately 4 to 6 billion male chicks meet this awful fate every year.This new process, under the patented name of Seleggt, can make the situation less messy and somewhat more ethically acceptable. While it still results in the culling of male eggs, which are turned into a high-protein animal feed, it's a less gory process to process partially-incubated eggs than it is to kill live chicks.
The process works by using a laser to burn a 0.3-mm hole in the egg shell on the ninth day. A drop of liquid is extracted and tested for a hormone that indicates gender. From a press release:
"Through a change in colour, this marker will indicate whether the sex-specific hormone estrone sulphate can be detected in the hatching egg. If detected, a female chick is developing in the hatching egg. After the gender identification process, the hatching egg does not need to be sealed as the inner membrane mends itself and closes the tiny hole from within. Consequently, only female chicks hatch on the 21st day of the incubation."
Scientists in other countries have also been working on solutions to this issue, but Germany's team, funded by the ministry of food and agriculture, has come the furthest. The trial eggs hit supermarket shelves in Berlin in November, with the label 'respeggt' on cartons. The no-kill eggs will cost slightly more than conventional ones, but the scientists are confident customers will be willing to pay "the extra price of a few cents per egg carton".
The gender-identifying technology will be available to hatcheries by 2020, and the team hopes eventually to roll it out across Europe. As the minister of food and agriculture Julia Klöckner said last month,
"This is a great day for animal welfare in Germany! In this way we will set the pace in Europe... Once the process is made available to all and the hatcheries have implemented the process, there will be no reason and no justification for chick culling."