There's a German company that recently started selling "no-kill" eggs.

If you're scratching your head, you're not alone. Chickens aren't killed for their eggs, so how can an egg be marketed as "no-kill?"

The chickens that lay eggs aren't killed to meet our demand for eggs; it's the chickens that would never lay eggs — the male baby chicks — that often end up getting killed. It's a not-so-well-kept secret that most egg eaters would rather not think about too much.

In the United States alone, each American consumes about 278.9 eggs a year, according to Statista. And the number of eggs we eat each year continues to rise, which means we need more chickens to be born. The problem is that about half of the chickens born can't lay eggs because they're male.

Those male chickens aren't desirable for meat, either, because they don't grow fast enough. What happens to all those male baby chicks? Many of them — about 4.6 billion around the world annually — are destroyed about a day after they are born. The process is called chick culling, and it's done by suffocating or sending live male baby chicks into a grinder.

That's difficult to comprehend; it's no wonder we don't want to think about it.

Thankfully, there are those who have thought about it — and they've found a solution.

An alternative to chick culling

chick hatched Scientists have found a way to make sure this chick is a female. (Photo: S-F/Shutterstock)

That solution is the patented "Seleggt" process, in which the eggs that contain male embryos are identified nine days after fertilization. Those eggs can be destroyed once they are identified, roughly 12 days before they would hatch.

The process was created by Dr. Ludger Breloh, who worked for four years with the German supermarket Rewe Group in effort to make its market brand of eggs more sustainable. Scientists at the University of Leipzig had already created a chemical marker to detect the hormone that's present in female eggs. That chemical marker is accurate 98.5 percent of the time.

Breloh then worked with a Dutch technology company to create a way to quickly, efficiently and hygienically test all eggs after they are fertilized but before they hatched. Fluid is taken from each egg through a hole burned by a laser beam. The fluid is tested for the female hormone. Those without the hormone are destroyed. The entire process takes about one second per egg.

Last year, Seleggt started using this method and hatched flocks of only female baby chicks. The eggs from those hens showed up on supermarket shelves in November. Those eggs are the ones being marketed as "no-kill" and have a seal on them that reads "respeggt."

Chick culling in the United States

eggs in a carton Is the U.S. ready to adopt a method that would make sure eggs are 'no-kill?' (Photo: LightField Studios/Shutterstock)

Will this Seleggt process make its way to the United States? Sooner or later, it should, or we need at least some method of eliminating chick culling. In 2016, the United Egg Producers, a group that represents 95 percent of the eggs produced in the U.S., released the following statement.

United Egg Producers and our egg farmer members support the elimination of day-old male chick culling after hatch for the laying industry. We are aware that there are a number of international research initiatives underway in this area, and we encourage the development of an alternative with the goal of eliminating the culling of day old male chicks by 2020 or as soon as it is commercially available and economically feasible. The U.S. egg industry is committed to continuing our proud history of advancing excellent welfare practices throughout the supply chain, and a breakthrough in this area will be a welcome development.

Now that a way to eliminate culling of day-old male chicks has been developed, the U.S. egg industry should be able to adopt the process by its 2020 goal. The United Egg Producers has yet to make a statement regarding the recently developed Seleggt process or any other process.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

What are 'no kill' eggs?
A German grocery store is selling "no kill" eggs after discovering a process that makes chick culling unnecessary. What does the term mean?