More Robots Are On The Way, For Chickens

The Lempert Report
February 28, 2017

Charoen Pokphand Group in Beijing is deploying robots to convince Chinese customers that its birds are healthy

Bloomberg News reports that about 3 million laying hens get daily checkups from machines dubbed “nanny robots.” These sensor-filled humanoids, perched atop a base with wheels, roll through a massive complex of windowless coops for 12 hours a day, monitoring the chickens’ temperatures and movements. Humans pluck feverish or immobile birds from their cages to protect the rest of the flock and keep sick birds and their eggs from reaching kitchen tables. 

Besides the cool technology and obvious efficiencies, the move is for good reason. There is little consumer confidence by Chinese shoppers in a country where food safety is questionable and where chicken eggs have been found to be fake. Fake eggs have plagued Chinese consumers since at least 2005, when the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported that since 2005 fake eggs were being sold at a street market in Guangzhou. The shells were made of calcium carbonate, while the egg white and yolk were a mixture of sodium alginate, gelatin, and tartrazine. 

Most of the poultry industry consists of hundreds of thousands of family-owned farms. The government’s inability to monitor all those suppliers creates a  food safety nightmare, with poor sanitation, lack of refrigeration, or overuse of antibiotics in animal feed. Bird flu is rampant, with at least two outbreaks reported by China’s agriculture ministry in December 2016. 

This company is China’s third-largest poultry producer, and is using the 18 robots to curtail outbreaks of bird flu and food-borne illnesses that plague a mainland industry that is expected to reach $138.2 billion in revenue by2012.  

You might be surprised to learn that China is the world’s largest producer of eggs and the second-biggest grower of chickens after the U.S., according to market researcher IBISWorld.

One more reason that repealing Country of Origin labeling was a bad idea.