Ethical egg selection could prevent the slaughter of day-old male chicks following the introduction of sexing technology in Germany.
Modern egg laying hens have been bred to produce large numbers of eggs, which in turn produce females which will lay eggs for human consumption. But current sexing procedures raise ethical and animal welfare issues.
One-day-old male chicks are considered worthless and, unlike broiler chickens, do not fatten economically for human consumption.
Presently, all eggs are hatched at day 21 and specialist workers identify male and female chicks by hand.
This involves squeezing open the chick’s anal vents to identify its sex.
Female chicks are then sold to rearing farms and an estimated worldwide seven billion, one-day-old male chicks are gassed or sent into a shredder.
Scientists at Leipzig University have come up with a new way to carry out this sex identification, which means the males are identified before they are hatched. On day nine of the egg incubation process, a small drop of liquid is extracted from hatching eggs.
This non-invasive technique is performed by a robot and involves a laser being fired to open a hole, smaller than a pin-head, in the outer shell to remove the miniscule amount of fluid.
The extracted drops of fluid are placed into a patented marker outside the hatching egg. Female eggs contain the hormone estrone sulphate and a marker reaction then takes place where a female egg sample changes colour to blue.
Female eggs are then returned to the hatchery and after 21 days of incubation, only hatch female chicks.
The state-of-the-art technology identifies 3,000 eggs per hour compared to large industrial hatcheries capable of sex processing more than 50,000 eggs per hour.
Chicks are then reared and lay eggs which are branded under the ‘Respeggt’ eggs brand. This branding identifies eggs which have not been hatched alongside male chicks, which are destined for slaughter.
Respeggt eggs are expected to be available in more than 5,000 grocery stores in Germany.
The unhatched male eggs will also have a value, being sold to animal feed producers, the cosmetics industry or vaccine manufacturers.
This comes off the back of political pressure in Germany on numerous ethical and environmental issues.
Earlier this year, a German court ruled culling day-old chicks violates the country’s laws against killing animals without justifiable reason.
The court allowed hatcheries an exception to the ruling ‘until an alternative is available’. However, German politicians are currently considering introducing a law to ban male chick culling.