Now available in Germany: 'no-kill eggs'

Seleggt is a patented process that can determine the sex of a chick just nine days after an egg has been fertilized.

(Bjarte Kvinge Tvedt |
(Bjarte Kvinge Tvedt |

Seleggt is a patented process that can determine the sex of a chick just nine days after an egg has been fertilized. German scientists made the discovery and eggs that are results of the study are now for sale in Berlin.

“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 Dr. Ludger Breloh, who led the four-year program by German supermarket Rewe Group to make its own brand eggs more sustainable, The Guardian reported.

Breloh explained in the Guardian report that the first step in him finding a resolution to the culling of male chicks came when he talked with scientists at the University of Leipzig.

It was there that Prof. 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. The Guardian reported that Einspaniers test has a 98.5 percent accuracy rate.

The next step was to make the test easy for daily use, Breloh said in the report. He went to Dutch company, HatchTech, and asked the company to create a machine that could perform Einspanier's test.

It was important that the test not only be precise but hygienic and fast. A needle is too invasive and raises sanitary issues.

“A laser beam burns a 0.3 mm-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,” the report said.

Breloh spoke of success in the report and said that hens are laying eggs in Germany that have been bred without culling male chicks.

Seleggt hatched the first brood of hens using this method, and their eggs were available on supermarket shelves in Berlin in November. The product is called Respeggt. Supermarkets will charge a few cents more per cartoon for the 'no-kill' eggs.

The need for a resolution

For the 6 billion laying hens hatched each year worldwide, a similar number of male chicks are produced that never make it to market. The male chicks, once hatched, are unsuitable for consumption due to poor growth performance and meat quality. Because there is currently no need or the male chicks, they are culled, which creates major challenges for animal welfare, food waste, farm profitability and energy usage. This practice, known as male chick culling requires the industry to devote significant time and resources to incubating the male eggs only to cull them later.

Male eggs are processed into animal feed. A mix of all this “waste” material can be processed into a dried product of excellent nutritional value as it contains materials that pose no health risks to animals or consumers. This leaving only female chicks to hatch at the end of a 21-day incubation period.

Other companies are also working to find a solution to the culling of male chicks. Breloh called it a competitive goal within the poultry industry. 

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