The standard practice of chick culling may soon be coming to an end on modern poultry farms. The breakthrough came from scientists in Germany who have patented the novel Seleggt process and this year, the world’s first no-kill went on sale in Berlin supermarkets, as reported in the Guardian. Female hens are now laying eggs on commercial farms in Germany without the need to cull any male chicks.
According to Seleggt, around 45 million male chicks are culled every year in Germany alone, and an estimated 4–6 billion globally. Even eggs labelled as “free range” or “organic” are likely to have involved some form of chick culling during the production process. Male chickens of egg-laying hens are not useful since they are unable to put enough weight on ― chickens used by the meat industry are different ― and males also cannot lay eggs. Therefore, directly after hatching, the male chicks are either suffocated with gas or ground up into pet food.
In Germany and other countries, animals cannot legally be harmed without a valid reason. But until now, hatching and killing millions of baby chickens have been the most efficient practices in the poultry industry. Therefore, hatcheries are exempt from this law. But once an efficient process becomes widely available, there will be no reason for this exemption.
The so-called “endocrinological gender identification” process can be used to determine the sex of a chick just nine days after the egg has been fertilized, thereby preventing the need for inhumane culling. First, a laser beam creates a 0.3-mm hole in the shell and air pressure is used to push a droplet of fluid out of the egg through the tiny hole. The sample is collected without any contact with the inside of the eggs. A marker is then mixed with the fluid droplet and works similar to a pregnancy test by detecting a hormone present in high quantities in female eggs, expect it changes blue for male and white for a female. Once the technology was developed, the scientists teamed up with Dutch technology company HatchTech to make it a fully an automated process. The scientists have now achieved 98.5 per cent accuracy using the process.
Research is being carried out around the world to put an end to chick culling with many other companies working on similar gender identification methods. For example, Egg Farmers of Ontario in Canada are using hyperspectral imaging. Under infrared light, male and female embryos have a different distribution of cells which could allow farmers to detect whether an egg is male or female. The company is still trying to make the process quick enough to be commercially viable. In June 2016, United Egg Producers in the US announced that it would end the culling of male chicks by 2020 using the Canadian technology.
So far, Seleggt is the only company that has managed to commercialise this type of technology, which is now set to transform modern poultry farming. Eggs with the label “respeggt” have been on shelves in Rewe supermarkets in Berlin since November with plans for the rest of Germany next year. The company is hoping to eventually roll out the new technology across Europe. It is hoped that once the technology becomes widely available, there will no longer be any need to cull male chicks.