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American egg producer adopts new technology that could make culling obsolete: 'Someone has to move the needle'

"The assumption is, once we start, some other people will follow."

"The assumption is, once we start, some other people will follow."

Photo Credit: Egg Innovations

Egg Innovations, an Indiana-based egg company, will soon become the first U.S. company to sell eggs produced without a disturbing practice called chick culling, the New York Times reports.

Chick culling involves sorting newly hatched chicks by sex and killing the males, usually when they're less than a day old. The females go on to become laying hens or are raised for meat, while the males, which can't lay eggs and produce tough and stringy meat, are used to make animal feed.

But with new technology, chick culling is completely unnecessary, the Times explains.

The alternative is in-ovo sexing: testing the sex of chicks while they're still in the egg and have not developed enough to feel pain. This way, the male eggs can be destroyed humanely, while only the female eggs are incubated and hatched.

Egg Innovations is the first U.S. company to work with an egg supplier that uses in-ovo sexing to maintain its laying flocks.

This technology is already in use in Europe. Germany and France have already fully switched to in-ovo sexing and banned chick culling, and Italy will enact its new ban against culling in 2027, the Times reports.

To explain why the U.S. is lagging, John Brunnquell, founder and president of Egg Innovations, told the Times, "The average consumer simply has no awareness that this is even an issue."

For that reason, he felt it was important for his company to take the first step. "The assumption is, once we start, some other people will follow," he said. "Someone has to move the needle."

By some accounts, the U.S. is already behind schedule. The United Egg Producers, a trade group, pledged to end chick culling by 2020, according to the Times.

In later statements, it claimed that European hatcheries are smaller, making it easier to adopt in-ovo sexing technology.

Robert Yaman, founder and chief executive of Innovate Animal Ag, told the Times that egg industries in the U.S. and Europe are similar in scale.

Implementing this technology will raise costs compared to culling by just a few cents per egg, the Times estimates. But hatcheries will also save money because they won't waste resources incubating male eggs. Ultimately, this change is unlikely to significantly raise egg prices for consumers — but it will make a huge difference to animal welfare.

Another option for animal welfare is to eat less meat, possibly by supplementing with vegetarian alternatives.

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