In the United States, billions of day-old male chicks are culled every year because they can’t lay eggs and they aren’t the fast-growing breed that are typically raised for meat. There is a cost to this that is both economic and political. On the economic side there is the cost of incubating those billions of eggs that will not turn into egg-layers. On the political side are the Animal-rights activists whose protests have been effective enough that the largest egg producers on the planet have agreed that they will stop the practice of macerating male chicks by 2020 or sooner if a new technology provides an alternative.
That day may be coming soon.
Vital Farms has announced a new technology that can sex eggs the day they are laid. The Texas-based company that sells eggs from pasture-raised chickens in 5,000 stores nationwide partnered with an Israeli firm, Novatrans, to make this technology commercially available within a year. “TeraEgg” is a machine the size of a boardroom table that determines the sex of the chick inside the egg in 2 seconds by measuring the volatile organic compounds given off by the egg. These metabolic compounds carry a distinct male or female signature.
But this isn’t the only option. Egg Farmers of Ontario has patented a process that sorts eggs by gender with 95% accuracy. German researchers expect to have their method, which pokes a hole in the egg and uses infrared light to find male or female chromosomes, will be ready sometime in 2017. That’s the time frame for another methodology developed by a Dutch start-up, In Ovo, for sharing their working model that runs fluid from the egg through a mass-spectrometer to determine gender by the 9th day of incubation.
This could change things in a big way for an egg industry that has created methods for raising eggs that provide them inexpensively, but that have also caused increasing concerns and protests from egg-buyers and animal rights advocates. Those concerns have resulted in legislation in different states and different, more expensive ways of raising hens and their eggs.
Currently 65% of incubated eggs are wasted because 15% of the eggs are infertile, and the half of the laid eggs that are male end up killed. What do you imagine will happen if these billions of eggs head to the market in egg cartons instead? How might that change the kinds of facilities we use to raise eggs?
According to the Washington Post, Vital Farm’s Chief Executive Matt O’Hayer hopes the promise of adding billions more eggs to the market with the use of the new sexing technology will encourage more egg farms to switch not just to cage-free systems, but to housing that gives hens even more space, like free-range or pasture-based.
What do you think?