On farms, a technique to prevent the slaughter of male chicks

A German company is marketing for the first time a technique that avoids slaughtering male chicks in laying hen farms.

How to prevent the slaughter of millions of male chicks in laying hens? The German company Seleggt thinks it has found the answer. Based in Cologne, it has just launched a solution on the market to identify the sex of chicks before hatching, between the eighth and tenth day after laying.

The technique consists of drilling a hole up to 0.3 mm into the shell using a laser, taking a sample and testing it using the so-called spectrometry technique. Unfertilized eggs and male chicks are then separated and processed into food products even before hatching.

A "Great breakthrough for animal welfare"

The Minister of Agriculture, Julia Klöckner, whose Ministry has funded 5 million euros this project, speaks of a "Great success for scientists" and a "Great breakthrough for animal welfare". In Germany, 50 million male chicks are killed each year - 40 million in France - most often crushed or gassed because they are considered unprofitable. In addition to being unable to lay, males grow too slowly in comparison to broiler breeds.

This technique of sexing chicks is the result of a joint effort between Seleggt, the University of Leipzig, the Dutch firm HatchTech specializing in animal welfare issues, and the German retail group Rewe.

One centime of euros per egg

Since November, egg boxes recognizable by a yellow heart logo are sold in 223 branches of the group in the German capital. Rewe wishes to extend its offer to all its subsidiaries by the end of 2019. For the consumer, the use of this technique implies an increase of one euro cent per egg.

Seleggt is now targeting a large-scale commercialization of its technology and the establishment of a label enabling consumers to easily identify products containing eggs produced without chick slaughter.

"A chance for hatcheries in Germany"

However, its managing director, Ludger Breloh, describes this sexing process as a "Step" towards a more sustainable solution to develop a breed of chicken that can be used for both eggs and meat.

Laying hens spread their wings

On the side of the German Ministry of Agriculture, we recognize in this technology "A chance for hatcheries in Germany" who fear that they will have to put the key under the door if the practice of slaughtering male chicks, requested by certain associations, is prohibited. In 2015, a law to this effect was passed in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, before being rejected by the courts.

Delphine Nerbollier (from our correspondent in Berlin)