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Activists Pressuring for Cockerel-Embryo Sexing Technology


Jonathan Moens writing in Undark criticizes the industry for tolerating the practice of euthanizing cockerels. He implies that there is a lack of concern over the issue. He falsely maintains that there are available procedures to remove eggs incubating male embryos from setters within a week of initiating incubation.


Despite funding, there does not appear to be a suitable technology in the near future.  There are many contenders for grants and prizes, applying a variety of procedures but as yet there is no practical, cost-effective method to differentiate between male and female embryos suitable for commercial application.


Moens is incorrect in his implication that all hatcheries marketing pullet chicks are using maceration to dispose of conscious cockerels.  It is understood that many facilities are now using carbon dioxide to painlessly kill cockerel chicks.  If there are hatcheries still macerating conscious cockerels then they need to be aware of the damage that they are causing to the egg industry, based on negative consumer perceptions.


The U.S. industry has not been helped by the less than constructive comments attributed to Michael Sencer of Hidden Valley Ranch.  Sencer is quoted in the Undark article that the industry could “save billions of dollars with the right technology, its mind boggling” The “billions saved” has no substantiation.  Simply criticizing the UEP for supporting a number of groups that claimed they could develop technology “and that nothing has happened” is counterproductive. In point of fact the UEP has attempted to advance embryo-sexing technology. When the UEP raised the issue within the industry over a decade ago it was presumed that with initial progress embryo-sexing would be a commercial reality by 2020. It is not to the discredit of UEP that this outcome has yet to occur.

It would appear that COVID has been advanced as an excuse for lack of progress, a contention which is soundly rejected.  If there has been any error it has been in advancing funds to too many university research groups and commercial entities without adequate proof of concept. As with many endeavors offering a potentially high return, embryo-sexing attracts both sincere scientists with acceptable concepts, those motivated by self- delusion and inevitably outright charlatans. 


Moens is incorrect in his assertion that technology exists that would allow the industry to adopt embryo-sexing at this time. Effectively there is very little use of hormone assay of allantoic fluid that was in fact developed in the U.S. in the 1990’s. Intended for gender separation of broilers the automated prototype system was abandoned as being impractical and expensive.  Criticism of the UEP is unfounded since the hormone assay approach is inconsistent with the basic statement that the U.S. egg production industry is prepared to adopt any technology that is both “commercially available” and “economically feasible”.


Research on embryo-sexing will continue for many years before a practical solution is developed, if at all.  In the interim, the most distasteful aspect of disposing of cockerels could be dispelled by universal application of modified atmosphere killing before maceration.