It’s hoped the technique will prevent the culling of millions of unwanted male chicks after they are hatched
Millions of male chicks from laying hens are culled each year because they are considered to have no breeding or meat purposes in food production.
Growing concerns voiced by consumers over animal welfare have prompted researchers and supermarkets to look into novel methods of gender identification.
In Germany, 45 million male chicks from laying hens are culled each year. A new method of identifying the gender of chicks before hatching has been developed there to eliminate such high rates of culling.
The University of Leipzig has worked with the German supermarket chain REWE and HatchTech, a Dutch based research and development company, to develop a new process called SELEGGT, which identifies chick gender and is now ready for the market.
During the SELEGGT process, a laser is used to burn a hole of no more than 0.3 millimetres into the egg shell. A small amount of fluid is then extracted through a non-invasive procedure, which means the interior of the egg is untouched.
Through a change in colour, a marker will indicate whether the sex-specific hormone estrone sulfate can be detected in the egg. If detected, it means a female chick is developing in the hatching egg.
Consequently, only female chicks hatch on the 21st day of the incubation. A lack of estrone sulfate indicates a male egg, which is separated and processed into high-quality animal feed.
“This is a great day for animal welfare in Germany. In this way we will set the pace in Europe,” said German Agriculture Minister Julia Klockner.
She said the new technique is a significant step forward for consumers, but it is also an opportunity for hatcheries.
“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. Regardless, it is important not to lose sight of the dual-use breed and to support it.”
SELEGGT is developing a business model to make the technology available to the industry by 2020 as a cost-neutral service.
“We intend to move from market readiness to start of production,” said Ludger Breloh, managing director of SELEGGT.
“At the same time, I believe the development and funding of the dual-use breeds to be equally important. Until then, gender identification in hatching eggs could serve as gap bridging technology.”
The SELEGGT process has an accuracy rate of 98 percent. Seamless traceability will be provided by innovative block-chain technology.
Every hatchery equipped with the SELEGGT process, whether it be a rearing farm, a laying farm or egg-packing centre, enters the relevant information into the block-chain using an app.
The data can be viewed by all members of the supply chain and cannot be altered, which ensures a high level of security.
The first table eggs to go through the new process became available last month in 223 REWE and PENNY stores in Berlin.
REWE Group is already planning the national market launch of the free-range respeggt-eggs in 5,500 REWE and PENNY stores in Germany next year.