Friday, January 13, 2017
While the female chicks are spared for egg laying, the male chicks are eliminated and disposed of by hatcheries through suffocation, maceration – a process that involves a conveyor belt and a giant blender – or other methods in a procedure known as male chick culling. The male chicks are generally killed soon after they hatch and shortly after their gender has been determined.
Now, a technology called TeraEgg developed in Israel by Novatrans can determine whether the egg will hatch into a male or female chick before incubation, preventing the hatching of eggs containing male chicks.
Vital Farms, a leading American brand dedicated to bringing ethically produced food to the table, raises healthy egg-laying hens on fresh pastures where they can be outside year-round and where conditions are regularly inspected and approved as humane. Vital Farms’ new subsidiary, Ovabrite, in partnership with Israeli startup Novatrans, recently introduced TeraEgg, a new non-invasive technology designed to end the culling of male chicks.
TeraEgg, which recently completed its early testing phase, analyzes organic compounds to identify the gender and fertility of eggs before incubation through a non-invasive process that uses terahertz spectroscopy (electromagnetic waves). This technology is able to determine whether it is male, female, or infertile through the detection of gasses that leak from the pores of the egg within seconds, rather than allowing the chicken to hatch – a process that otherwise takes around three weeks. Male and infertile eggs are removed before they enter incubation so they can be re-purposed for human consumption rather than destroyed post-incubation.
By eliminating the egg industry’s practice of chick culling, TeraEgg hopes to reduce energy costs and labor without disrupting hatchery operations, as well as to create new revenue streams for egg hatcheries.
The worldwide demand for cage-free eggs is growing, and so does the demand for hens. According to the USDA, in order to meet current and future demand for cage-free eggs, farmers will need 175 million cage-free hens in the coming years, but there are currently only 18 million. Every increase in egg demand means a two-fold increase in hatched chicks since half those chicks will be male.
Animal welfare groups have long decried chick culling, but it makes a lot of sense to end the practice from a hatchery’s perspective, too. The value of wasted eggs – male and infertile – is estimated to be at least $440 million annually, with an additional $70-plus million in labor and energy to incubate and sex those eggs. Building out a product solely to destroy half of it before it ever ships makes little business sense. TeraEgg is giving these hatcheries a way to eliminate all that waste and produce additional revenue off of all their eggs, instead of just half.
Successful completion of the early testing phase represents a major milestone for TeraEgg. Ovabrite is expected to begin commercial product development in late 2017. TeraEgg has the potential to be one of the greatest advancements in the recent history of animal welfare.