TEL AVIV, Dec. 16 – Israeli scientists have created a female-only laying hen, a breakthrough that could help end the global culling of an estimated 7 billion male chicks each year.
Chicks born from laying eggs, being unsuitable for meat production, do not lay eggs, die in large numbers from suffocation or crushing.
Animal rights activists have condemned the practice as barbaric and it has been banned in several European countries.
A ban on the culling of roosters in Germany came into force this year. French farmers have until the end of the year to comply with the new restrictions.
A team at the Volcano Center of the Israel Agricultural Research Organization has used gene editing to create a new breed of hen that only produces females. This, they say, is the only option to significantly curb the mass culling of male chicks worldwide.
“This is a world first and the only solution that is easy for industry players to implement,” team leader Yuval Cinnamon, an embryologist at the Volcano Centre, told AFP.
Techniques to try to determine whether an egg is carrying a male or female embryo are unreliable, he said.
The Volcano Center on the outskirts of Tel Aviv developed the species after seven years of research in partnership with the US-Israeli company Huminn, which focuses in part on commercially viable sustainable food production.
“The most serious problem”
The technique involves genetically modifying laying hens so that they do not develop and hatch while carrying male embryos.
“After fertilization, the male embryos do not develop, and the female embryos develop normally and hatch normally without the genetic modification,” Cinnamon explained.
“This will provide a real answer to what may be the most serious animal welfare problem in the world today,” he added.
In addition to the animal rights benefits, the technology could save poultry producers the space and energy needed to operate hatcheries, while reducing substantial cull costs.
“It costs a dollar per male chick to cull, so that saves $7 billion a year,” says Cinnamon.
Huminn predicts that the commercial benefits of the technology could become apparent within two years.
At a meeting in October, EU agriculture ministers said they would consider an EU-wide ban on culling male chicks from laying hens, pending the outcome of an impact assessment. — ETX studio