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Israeli scientists have created a species of egg-laying hen that produces only females, a world first that could help end the slaughter of billions of male chickens around the world each year.
Male chicks from laying hens, which are not used for human consumption and do not produce eggs, are largely destroyed by grinding or gassing, a practice condemned by animal rights groups and banned by several European countries.
This is the case of Germany, which passed legislation banning the killing of male chickens in early 2022, while France has decided to ban the practice from January 1. However, an exception has been introduced for white hens, which are difficult to sex.
For the others, machines must be put in place to determine the sex of the embryos in the egg (ovosexing), and therefore eliminate those containing males, rather than the young themselves.
But embryology expert Yuval Cinnamon, who leads the team of Israeli researchers who have developed a new breed of chicken that only raises females, believes it is the only truly reliable technique.
“This is a world first, the only solution that is easy for industrial players to implement, because it is not based on sorting – the often erroneous identification of eggs that carry male or female embryos – but on determining a priori sex.”explains this researcher at the Israeli National Institute for Agricultural Research to AFP.
Based in the suburbs of Tel Aviv, the Volcani Institute recently announced this discovery in collaboration with the American-Israeli food company Huminn Poultry, which specializes in sustainable poultry production, after seven years of research.
This new technique should be commercialized by Huminn Poultry in one to two years.
The technology involves introducing a genetic modification to the chromosome which, when present in the chick embryo, leads to the development of males.
Thus modified, the male embryo does not develop, and for their part, “the female embryos (carrying the W chromosome) develop normally without being genetically modified and hatch normally”, explains Yuval Cinnamon.
“This will provide a real answer to probably the most serious problem in the world today in terms of animal welfare, at least in terms of numbers.”he adds, saying that around seven billion male chickens are slaughtered worldwide each year.
Added to this are the benefits in terms of sustainable development: saving space and energy to run the incubators and eliminating the male chicks.
“Today it costs one dollar to kill each male chicken, so that’s seven billion in savings per year”notes Mr. Cinnamon.
In October, EU agriculture ministers said they were ready to consider an EU-wide ban on the routine dismemberment of male chickens in the laying hen industry, subject to the results of an investigation by Brussels.