The chicken and egg selections in your local supermarket are very much a matriarchy. Male chicks do not lay eggs and don’t pack on enough meat to make them attractive to raise for consumption. As a result, they’re typically destroyed in ways that would make anyone cringe—the chicks are often either suffocated with gas or sent into a mulcher to become feed.
That could soon change, thanks to an innovation spearheaded by German scientists. A new, “no-kill” egg is now on sale in Berlin, and it may hold the potential to end the practice of discarding male chicks by identifying their sex before hatching.
According to The Guardian, a patented process dubbed “SELEGGT” can pinpoint the sex of a chick just nine days after an egg has been fertilized. Female eggs go on to hatch; male eggs are processed for animal feed. The process would eliminate the live culling of male chicks after hatching.
SELEGGT was championed by the REWE Group, a retail franchise that was looking to increase the sustainability of its eggs. REWE consulted with the University of Leipzig, where scientists developed a method of detection similar to a pregnancy test. A chemical marker detects a hormone known as estrone sulfate that’s present in high quantities in female eggs. Fluid taken from the egg is mixed with the marker and offers a color-coded identification of the sex—blue for female, white for male. The accuracy rate is said to be 98.5 percent.
REWE then sought out a way to perform the test at a speed suitable for mass production. Instead of using a needle, a laser creates a 0.3 millimeter hole in the shell, with air pressure forcing a tiny amount of fluid from the opening. An egg can be sampled in just one second without being touched.
The first grouping of hens that were reared without having to kill any hatched male chicks appeared earlier this year. Their eggs, sold under the label “Respeggt,” went on sale in November, with plans to expand throughout Europe. According to REWE, the process adds only a few cents to the cost of a carton.
Other companies have made similar advancements: Vital Farms in Austin is working on identifying gases leaking through egg pores that can determine sex in just two days—but SELEGGT is the first to come to market. As one or more of these strategies are implemented throughout the poultry industry, it’s hoped that the practice of male chick culling will be eliminated.
[h/t The Guardian]