- American-Israeli tech company Huminn announced that for the first time a hen laid eggs from which only female chicks hatched after undergoing genetic modification. Scientists used chromosomal segregation on its “Golda” hen to transfer a biological trait to her eggs through sex chromosomes, preventing the development of male embryos.
- About 7 billion male chicks born to egg-laying hens are killed each year, as they are not as valuable for meat as those of broiler chickens that are raised for meat production. Huminn said its technology would save egg producers billions.
- Egg costs have increased by 49.1% over the past year as bird flu has ravaged flocks, which has resulted in the killing of over 57 million birds in the U.S. in 2022, according to the CDC. Technology like Huminn’s could be cost-effective for producers looking to meet high demand for the protein.
Eggs are in high demand. The global egg market is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 7.7% per year until 2027, when it will be worth $159 billion, according to Statista data. A CoBank report this fall estimated egg costs would remain elevated for a longer period than previous bird flu outbreaks.
Eliminating the need to cull male chicks would benefit egg producers, who would no longer dedicate costly resources to sort and kill the male birds in their supply chains.
Despite deriving from genetically modified chickens, Huminn said the eggs laid by the Golda hens and the female chicks themselves are non-GMO and are genetically identical to any others. Golda hens will be housed in poultry breeding centers, but their eggs will be sold to farmers for production of commercial eggs, the company told The Times of Israel.
Advocacy groups often oppose changing the genetic makeup of animals, believing that it could increase their suffering by altering their species from its original state. But Compassion in World Farming’s chief policy advisor Peter Stephenson told Food Dive in an emailed statement that while the organization normally opposes gene editing, it supports Huminn’s efforts. He said there will be no detrimental impact on animal health and welfare, and there is no less intrusive method to prevent the killing of male chicks.
“Much of the egg sector is inhumane with many of the hens being kept in tiny cages and being bred to produce a massive 300 eggs a year — they have to draw on their own bone calcium to form eggshells. This leads to osteoporosis which makes the hens susceptible to bone fractures,” Stephenson said. “The gene edited hen that only produces female chicks could end one of the egg sector’s worst abuses.”
Wider adoption of the genetically modified hens could come through regulatory approval. According to Huminn, the EU’s general for Health and Food Safety has approved the use of its technology for egg-laying hens without any regulatory change. The tech company said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration currently is reviewing its research.
While critics of genetic modification continue to oppose GMO technology, U.S. regulators made a step toward embracing GMO usage in food earlier this year. The FDA approved cattle for food that are bioengineered to have short hair, determining that the animals pose a low risk to humans.