October 27, 2016

Washington Post Discusses Vital Farms’ New Initiative

Pressure from animal welfare groups and consumer interest in humane farming methods are fueling a quiet international race to develop technology that would end one of the egg industry’s most gruesome practices: the shredding to death of billions of newborn male chicks each year.

Efforts are underway in North America and Europe to find an industrial-scale method to determine the gender of a chicken egg before it’s hatched, known as in-ovo sexing, and help prevent a mass culling that few consumers know about. Under current methods, all males chicks born in hatcheries for egg-laying chickens are killed the day they hatch, usually by what the industry calls “maceration,” or grinding in what amounts to a blender. That is because according to the hard math of modern-day poultry farming, they’re useless: The males cannot grow up to lay eggs, and they’re not the fast-growing breeds that are sold as meat.

Now a Texas-based company that sells eggs from pasture-raised hens has entered the race, saying it has developed a method that can be used the day eggs are laid. Vital Farms, whose eggs are carried by 5,000 stores nationwide, told The Washington Post this week that it hopes to make the method, which it developed in partnership with the Israeli tech firm Novatrans, commercially available within a year.

It says its technology would solve an animal welfare problem as well as a financial one for egg hatcheries, which under current methods spend money incubating eggs for 21 days and then sorting out by hand — and culling — the males that hatch from half of them. Male eggs could instead be sold on grocery shelves, Vital Farms chief executive Matt O’Hayer said.

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