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“No-kill” eggs hit shelves in Germany, potentially ending culling of billions of male chicks

Zoom in font  Zoom out font Published: 2019-01-03  Views: 10
Core Tip: In a world-first development, “no-kill” eggs have hit shelves in Berlin, Germany, after scientists found an easy way to determine a chick’s sex before it hatches.
In a world-first development, “no-kill” eggs have hit shelves in Berlin, Germany, after scientists found an easy way to determine a chick’s sex before it hatches. Respeggt eggs are now available in certain Berlin supermarkets, with a broader roll out planned for later this month. The recent breakthrough could put an end to the annual live shredding of billions of male chicks from laying hen breeds worldwide.

The patented “Seleggt” process used in Respeggt eggs can determine the sex of a chick just nine days after an egg has been fertilized. Male eggs are processed into animal feed, leaving only female chicks to hatch at the end of a 21-day incubation period.

“If you can determine the sex of a hatching egg you can entirely dispense with the culling of live male chicks,” comments Seleggt Managing Director Dr. Ludger Breloh, who spearheaded the four-year program by German supermarket Rewe Group.

“It’s not about winning or losing,” he continues. “We all have the same goal, which is to end the culling of chicks in the supply chain. Of course, there’s competition, but it’s positive in that it keeps us all focused on that goal.”

In modern poultry farming, humans have bred chickens for one of two purposes: to produce eggs or meat. Yet half of all the animals bred for this purpose are considered unusable. Male chicks lay no eggs and don’t grow fast enough to justify the cost of feeding them up for meat and they are culled.

An estimated 4-6 billion male chicks are slaughtered globally every year because they “serve no economic purpose.” Often, chicks are fed alive into grinding or shredding machines to be processed into reptile food.

Chick culling has become increasingly controversial over the years, as more consumers make ethical food choices. Consumer kickback has, in turn, prompted a global race to develop more humane solutions.

According to Breloh, his first breakthrough came when he approached scientists at the University of Leipzig where Professor Almuth Einspanier developed a chemical marker – similar to a pregnancy test – that could detect a hormone present in high quantities in female eggs. Mixed with fluid from fertilized eggs at nine days, the marker changes blue for a male and white for a female, with a 98.5 percent accuracy rate.

Breloh then needed to find a way of making the test easy for everyday use in hatcheries. He approached Dutch technology company HatchTech and asked them to make an automated machine to conduct Einspanier’s analysis from beginning to end.

It had to be easy to use, scalable, flexible, hygienic and above all, fast – the eggs couldn’t be out of the incubator for more than two hours. The biggest problem was how to extract test fluid quickly from the egg without damaging it.

A laser beam was used to burn a 0.3mm-wide hole in the shell. Then, air pressure is applied to the shell exterior, pushing a drop of fluid out of the hole. The process takes one second per egg and enables fluid to be collected from eggs without touching them.

“It worked faultlessly,” says Breloh of the test phase. “Today, female hens are laying eggs in farms in Germany that have been bred without killing any male chicks.”

Last year, Seleggt hatched the first brood of hens bred using the method. Their eggs – the first to be sold from hens reared without killing male chicks – hit supermarket shelves in November 2018, bearing the seal “Respeggt.”

Rewe Group plans to roll out the eggs across German stores this year, while Seleggt intends to install the technology in independent hatcheries from 2020. Seleggt will require supermarkets to pay a few extra cents on every box of eggs sold with their “Respeggt” seal.

In October 2018, eggs from Italian company Tedaldi were certified Friend of the Earth, being the first ones in the world sparing the male chicks and respecting animal welfare requirements.

Animal welfare and transparency in farming is becoming more and more important to consumers worldwide. As a result of this, increased engagement of companies and the industry is improving.

According to a 2018 Innova Market Insights trends survey, 8 in 10 US consumers are more likely to buy brands that are honest and transparent about how and where products are produced.

 
 
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