JERUSALEM (VINnews) — Israeli scientists announced a dramatic breakthrough which could prevent the wanton destruction of billions of male chicks annually. The new technology uses genetically modified hens, dubbed Golda hens, to lay eggs that only produce females.
The technology has been developed over the last seven years, with embryology expert Dr. Yuval Cinnamon heading a team at the Israeli Agricultural Research Organization — Volcani Center, in partnership with Poultry by Huminn.
“The size of the egg-laying market in the world is estimated at about 7 billion laying hens, and for each hen, a male chick is culled. The production of table eggs in the world is estimated at over two trillion eggs per year — over 80 million tons,” Cinnamon told The Times of Israel news site.
“We are very happy to be able to provide a viable solution to… the most devastating animal welfare issue in the livestock industry worldwide, for the benefit of animals and humankind,” he said.
The reason for the mass slaughter of male chicks is that their costs outweigh the benefit of selling them for meat, and they do not compete with meat chickens, which are born to different kind of hens, broiler hens, which grow much faster and stronger than laying hens.
The new discovery could halve costs of hatching chicks and prevent the often cruel methods used to dispose of male chicks. The hens were named Golda hens due to their color and not after Israel’s former prime minister Golda Meir.
Roosters carry the Z chromosome while hens carry Z for males and W for females. The coupling of two Zs leads to a male chick being born. If the mother supplies the W chromosome to the father’s Z, a female chick will emerge.
The research team discovered a way to genetically edit the hen’s Z chromosome so that eggs carrying male embryos will stop developing at an early stage and will not hatch.
Golda’s eggs are fertile eggs from which only females hatch and these female chicks then lay table eggs.
The female chicks that result are not genetically modified in any way because they inherited the unedited W chromosome from the mother and the untouched Z chromosome from the father.
According to a Huminn company statement, the European Union’s director general for Health and Food Safety has examined the technology and confirmed that both the egg-laying hens from the Golda line and the eggs that they lay can be sold without any regulatory change.
Cinnamon added that the US FDA was evaluating the research and that he hoped it, and Israel’s Agriculture Ministry, would follow suit.
This development comes as the demand for eggs is expected to rise by 50% globally from 2020 to 2035. The company hopes to sell Golda chicks to formers who wish to produce unfertilized eggs for eating.
Yaarit Wainberg, CEO of Poultry by Huminn, added, “In recent years, we have witnessed a change in awareness around the world regarding animal welfare, but on the other hand, no practical solutions have been identified to stop the unfortunate phenomenon of killing the male chicks. We are proud and excited to be the first in the world to offer an effective solution, with a significant contribution to the entire value chain — all this based on Israeli science and innovation.”
Huminn — established five years ago under the name NRS Agro Innovation — is an American-Israeli innovation company that helps to create and commercializes innovative solutions in health, nutrition, environmental quality, and human and animal welfare.
It has signed several strategic collaborations with Israeli organizations. In addition to the Volcani Center, these include the Weizmann Institute of Science, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and The National Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev.