The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) is offering up to $6 million in prizes for developing technologies that can quickly determine the sex of layer chick eggs before they hatch.

Currently, egg industry workers are only able to identify the sex of a chick after it hatches. Male chicks, once hatched, are unsuitable for consumption due to poor growth performance and meat quality, so they are immediately culled. FFAR says the culling – some 6 billion male chicks are disposed of worldwide each year – poses major challenges for animal welfare, farm profitability and energy usage.

“Male chick culling is a challenge that must be solved. However, promising scientific advancements indicate that it’s possible to develop a scalable technology to determine an egg’s sex before it hatches,” said Sally Rockey, FFAR’s executive director. “Solving this challenge would not only improve animal welfare, but also save egg producers billions while adding eggs to the food supply.” 

FFAR previewed its plans for its Egg-Tech Prize this week at the United Egg Producers’ Annual Board Meeting and Executive Conference on the Hawaiian island of Maui where UEP CEO Chad Gregory commended FFAR for its efforts in encouraging research on the issue.

“Assuring the health and well-being of animals simply is the right thing to do,” Gregory said. “As such, we have an obligation to support practices and technologies that improve animal welfare across egg production, and this extends to finding an economically feasible, commercially viable alternative to the practice of male chick culling at hatcheries.”

Current approaches to solving this challenge range from gene-editing to measuring an egg’s hormone levels. In a news release, FFAR said it is confident the industry can build on recent advancements in sensor technologies, engineering and biological sciences to develop a technology that both successfully determines an egg’s sex before it hatches and can be integrated into existing production systems.

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The foundation says that if the challenge is solved, the 6 billion male eggs culled each year could be directed into the food supply or vaccine production. In addition, FFAR estimates that the worldwide egg industry could save up to $2.5 billion a year.

FFAR, which was created in the 2014 farm bill,  plans to begin accepting Egg-Tech Prize applications in early 2019. More information about the prize is available on the FFAR website

Chick culling occurs in all industrialized egg production whether free range, organic, or battery cage – including that of the U.S. and the U.K. Because male chickens do not lay eggs and only those on breeding programs are required to fertilize eggs, they are considered redundant to the egg-laying industry and are usually killed shortly after being sexed, which occurs after they hatch. Many methods of culling do not involve anesthetics and include maceration using a high speed grinder, cervical dislocation, and asphyxiation by carbon dioxide.

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