28th December 2018
Egg scanning tech could prevent culling of 7 billion chicks per year
A new process being developed in Germany could eliminate the need for male chick culling.
Every year, an estimated 7 billion male chicks are slaughtered globally because they have no economic value, being unable to lay eggs or fatten enough meat. Some are put to sleep with CO2; others are suffocated in bags, electrocuted, have their necks broken, or are dumped alive into meat shredders. Their remains are often used as reptile food in zoos. This vast culling of life has been a standard practice for many decades with little or no change.
However, a new process developed in Germany can identify the sex of chicken embryos before they are hatched. Known as "SELEGGT", the non-invasive system is a joint venture of REWE Group and Dutch technology company HatchTech, with funding from Germany's Federal Ministry for Food and Agriculture (BMEL).
SELEGGT uses a laser to burn a hole of no more than 0.3 millimetres into the hatching egg shell. Afterwards, a small amount of allantois fluid is extracted through a non-invasive procedure. Hence, the interior of the hatching egg is untouched and remains safe and sound. In the next step, the allantois fluid is placed on a patented marker outside the hatching egg. 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 within a few hours.
No estrone sulphate indicates a male hatching egg. These eggs are separated and processed into high-quality animal feed. The SELEGGT process has an accuracy rate of almost 99%. Seamless traceability is provided by innovative blockchain technology.
"If you can determine the sex of a hatching egg, you can entirely dispense with the culling of live male chicks," said Dr Ludger Breloh, who has led the four-year programme by REWE Group to make its own-brand eggs more sustainable. The company is planning a national market launch in 5,500 REWE and Penny stores across Germany for the upcoming year. It will then become available to other partners in the industry who can implement this process in their hatcheries and make it generally accessible from 2020.
"Concerned customers can now actively help to put an end to the practice of male chick culling through their shopping behaviour," said Jan Kunath, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of REWE Group. "I strongly believe that the extra price of a few cents per egg carton is well invested. Throughout next year, our customers will be able to buy free-range respeggt-eggs gradually throughout Germany. As a company, we are setting an example that sustainability and animal welfare are fundamental principles for us."
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