The world’s first-ever no-kill eggs went on sale in Berlin after German scientists found an easy way to determine a chick’s gender before it hatches, in a breakthrough that could put an end to the annual live shredding of billions of male chicks worldwide.
The patented “Seleggt” process 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,” said Seleggt managing director Ludger Breloh, who spearheaded the four-year program by German supermarket Rewe Group to make its own-brand eggs more sustainable.
“It’s not about winning or losing,” he said of the worldwide race to find a marketable solution. “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.”
An estimated 4 billion to 6 billion male chicks are slaughtered globally every year because they serve no economic purpose. Some are suffocated, others are fed alive into grinding or shredding machines to be processed into reptile food.
Chick culling has become increasingly controversial. In 2015, a video went viral of an Israeli animal rights activist shutting down a chick shredding machine and challenging a police officer to turn it back on.
Breloh said his first breakthrough came when he approached scientists at the University of Leipzig where Almuth Einspanier had developed a chemical marker 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.
Next, Breloh had 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 test from beginning to end.
The biggest problem was how to extract test fluid quickly from the egg without damaging it. A needle would work, but it was invasive and also brought additional hygienic problems.
Instead, a laser beam burns 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 absolutely faultlessly,” said Breloh of the test phase. “Today, female hens are laying eggs in farms in Germany that have been bred without killing any male chicks.”
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