Technology competition to prevent chick mass murder

At a Dutch hatchery that supplies spawning chickens to the egg industry, a machine inserts a needle into a row of chicken eggs that reciprocates on a conveyor belt, removing a small liquid from each egg and biodegrading the shell holes The body fluids are quickly analyzed and a big indication of whether they are male or female.

Discard the male egg. Females hatch and hatch.

Not long ago, it was impossible to know the sex of a chicken in an egg. As a result, 6 billion newly hatched male chicks are killed each year around the world, according to the US Government-funded Food and Agriculture Research Foundation. Male chicks are useless to the hatchery. They do not lay eggs And don’t gain weight right away Types of chickens raised for slaughterSome chicks are chopped with the rotary blade of a maceration machine while they are alive, while others are gas-treated with carbon dioxide.

A machine developed by the Dutch company In Ovo inserts a needle into a row of eggs, draws a small liquid from each egg, and then glues the hole. Analyze body fluids to identify gender.


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Workers sort eggs by male and female embryos.


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A wave of new technologies aims to end the killing by identifying the sex of the chicken before it hatches. In some Western countries, there is growing concern about the fate of male chicks, and governments such as Germany have taken steps to end or limit this practice. Some retailers are trying to anticipate this problem and are asking their suppliers to introduce technology that allows them to screen their eggs. So far, intake has been restricted because the new methods are expensive or only work on certain types of chicken eggs.

“We’re like having an abortion,” said Wouter Bruins, managing director of In Ovo BV, a Dutch company behind the genitals used at the Dutch hatchery Het Anker BV. say. Early versions of the machine can lay about 40,000 eggs a week, and with more efficient testing, they can lay five times as many eggs, Bruins said. The company’s first customer. The hatchery began using this machine for commercial production in November.

Het Anker’s director, Jan Vroegindeweij, says he is using In Ovo’s technology because the Dutch government has asked hatchery owners to look for alternatives instead of thinning out male chicks. Egg sexual intercourse is rapid on Ovo machines, but it also causes inefficiencies. Hatching the same amount of female chicks requires 30% to 40% more eggs, Vroegindeweij said. His buyer agreed to compensate for the high costs incurred by using In Ovo machines. This is because the resulting female chicks can be sold to retailers at a premium price. “No hatchery can withstand these much higher costs.[s] “In itself,” he says.

According to Bruins, In Ovo continues to improve operations and reduce the proportion of lost eggs.

According to Wouter Bruins, managing director of In Ovo, early machines can have sex with about 40,000 eggs a week, while the version currently being tested can have sex with five times as many eggs. I will.


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Carrefour SA,

Last year, the French grocery chain began selling unselected eggs from suppliers using different methods. The sexing method at the hatchery is to shine light from below and take a picture, and distinguish the sex by the color of the feathers. A pack of 6 eggs from chickens identified this way costs about $ 2.30, which is about 10% higher than regular eggs. Starting this spring, the company plans to extend the process to about 40 million eggs annually, with some consumers paying more to help kill fewer chicks. I’m expecting.

The Food and Agriculture Research Foundation, which founded the Egg Technology Award for research to prevent the slaughter of male chicks in 2019, has distributed millions of dollars in grants. “This is like the Space Race. The type of things people are using is just Really advanced technology It’s rarely seen in agriculture, “says Timothy Kurt, director of science programs.

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Several recipients, including Professor Abdenur Abbas of the Department of Biological Products and Biological Systems Engineering at the University of Minnesota, who are adopting machine learning, are trying to identify the difference in gas emitted from male and female eggs. .. SensIT Ventures Inc. (Davis, Calif.) Is developing a chemical sensor chip that can detect subtle differences in gas composition to identify embryo sex.

Israeli start-up eggXYt Ltd. uses gene editing to allow male embryos to fluoresce when exposed to certain types of light. According to the company, males receive the edited gene. It is said that the female chicks have not been modified, only the chicks. “If we could detect them by genes and then devise a technique to pick up the signal, the problem would be solved,” says CEO Yefda Ellam.

His company motto is “count chickens before hatching”.

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Stopping the slaughter of male chicks is the latest change for the industry facing decades of pressure from animal welfare groups and some consumers to improve the treatment of chickens raised. Animals will often be trapped in cages and undergo procedures such as trimming their bees with hot blades to reduce damage when poking their neighbors. In recent years, food companies and grocery chains have begun selling cageless chicken eggs, and some food companies sell chicken eggs with intact beaks.

By the end of February, Rewe Markt GmbH, a leading German food retailer with more than 3,700 stores, will attempt to procure all its branded eggs from a hatchery that does not kill male chicks. On Friday, the German government approved a law banning the killing of first-day-old male chicks, making it the first country in the world to ban this practice. “Germany is now a pioneer in the world,” said a spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture.

For widespread adoption, technology needs to be able to sexually intercourse eggs quickly and inexpensively without causing significant loss of eggs. It takes time for the industry to evaluate new technologies. EggXYt gene editing methods require regulatory approval.

Het Anker has been using In Ovo technology since November.


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For widespread adoption, technology needs to be able to sexually intercourse eggs quickly and inexpensively without causing significant loss of eggs.


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In the United States, United Egg Producers, the organization that represents 90% of the country’s egg production, said in March that it was looking for an alternative to killing chicks. US Food Safety And extensible technology that meets ethical standards is not yet available.

For example, the color analysis method used by Calfool suppliers only works for brown-feathered chicken eggs, but the majority of US-feathered chickens are white-feathered chickens. The group said they were wary of techniques like In Ovo, which breaks eggshells, but lacked technical expertise, as they could bring disease and interfere with the embryo.

Chickens laid from eggs with In Ovo’s technology are healthy and farmers are happy, Bruins said.

According to Kurt, his organization’s funding aims to spur solutions that circumvent some of the limitations of currently available sexual activity techniques. “Our approach is truly all-or. “Nothing,” he added, “we really want to aim for money.”

These female baby chicks hatched from eggs analyzed by In Ovo technology.


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Write to John Emont

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Technology competition to prevent chick mass murder

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