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Claims on Commercial Gender Determination Lack Substance

  

Mar 10, 2017

    

A recent press release claiming the ability to differentiate between the genders of embryos revisits prospective technology. Over the past year there have been a number of claims of imminent introduction of gender determination to avoid destruction of egg-strain cockerels after hatch. 

The Federal Government of Germany which includes members of the Green Party who are strenuously opposed to intensive livestock production, has funded research applying ramen spectroscopy to determine gender.  The experimental technique, as published, involves removal of a portion of the shell to facilitate assay, which may be satisfactory for research and development but certainly would be impractical under commercial conditions.

  

A concern of note is the frequency of claims made by universities, research institutes and entrepreneurs claiming that their specific systems will offer gender determination at ages ranging from 0 to 5 days of incubation. In one case a claimant maintains that the gender of male embryos can be switched to female by the application of light of a specific wavelength.  

The latest joint publicity released from researchers at the Technical University of Dresden in Germany and Vilnius University in Lithuania claim 97 percent accuracy in differentiation on a sample of 380 eggs examined between the third and fourth day of incubation.  The principle of the technique involves detection of unspecified markers in blood within the developing vasculature of eggs bearing male embryos, producing fluorescence at a frequency of 910 nanometers.

Dr. Roberta Galli (appropriately named) of the Technical University of Dresden noted “in ovo sexing based on spectral analysis is non-invasive, does not require extraction of egg material and does not use consumables.” This obviously a reference to the “gender-sorter” technology developed by Embrex in the 1990s which although technically effective did not achieve commercial acceptance by the broiler industry

A number of other techniques, one of which has been promoted by a company with questionable ethics as a potential solution has been shown to be totally ineffective by an independent research institute. A second candidate when evaluated has no plausible biological basis for gender determination.  

The problem arising from the premature announcement of “imminent success” and similar breakthroughs is that premature publicity raises false hopes and delays the need to implement humane treatment of cockerels requiring anesthesia before disposal.

An important underlying consideration relating to gender determination is that the activists opposed to destruction of cockerels are deceptively using the “humane justification” to stimulate development of a system. In reality these activists wish to completely displace commercial production of all livestock including laying hens.  Their ideal is to replace a highly efficient industry producing a nutritious product at a reasonable cost with some form of 19th century idyllic dual-purpose bird to produce eggs and meat albeit with poor efficiently and sustainability on small family farms.

It is anticipated that even if an economically viable and technically acceptable method of gender determination is developed, activists will simply claim that destruction of eggs with male embryos at any stage of incubation represents gender discrimination and is morally unacceptable. This will stimulate a further round of protests following the pattern applied against confined housing, beak trimming, outside access, environmental enrichments, lighting and other pressure points. There will be no placating or satisfying vegan opponents of intensive livestock production. 

The major challenge facing developers of spectroscopic systems will be translating laboratory-scale detection into a commercial system which can achieve at least 99 percent specificity at a reasonable cost and which will operate reliably in a commercial hatchery at rates of up to 50,000 eggs per hour.

Since there is no immediate prospect of a practical and financially feasible solution the EU and U.S. egg-production industries and specifically prospective investors, should be skeptical of premature press releases which have no biological basis or which offer limited potential for commercialization.