HPLC MS-MS Analysis Shows Measurement of Corticosterone in Egg Albumen Is Not a Valid Indicator of Chicken Welfare
School of Life Sciences and Proteomics Core Facility, Faculty of Science, The University of Technology Sydney, Ultimo 2007, Australia
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Received: 16 April 2020 / Accepted: 6 May 2020 / Published: 9 May 2020
Growing interest in the welfare of farmed animals, particularly those in restrictive housing, has stimulated attempts to define simple measures of welfare. One such claimed measure involves the analysis of so-called stress hormones. In chickens, the main ‘stress hormone’ is corticosterone. In Australia, reviews of legislation relating to the welfare of chickens housed in cages have relied heavily on non-invasive measures of corticosterone, in particular those using egg white (albumen). All of those measures have used antibodies to quantify the corticosterone. Recently, doubts have been raised about the specificity of these measurement techniques. In this study, we demonstrate that high-resolution chromatographic separation of extracted egg albumen, followed by mass spectrometry, reveals that corticosterone is barely detectable in chicken egg albumen. Previous work using immunoassays reported levels of 0.5 to 20 ng/g. We have found egg albumen corticosterone concentrations of about 50 pg/g. We conclude there is so little corticosterone in egg albumen that it is not routinely usable as an indicator of chicken welfare. We have also found significant amounts of other steroids (progesterone, cortisol) in chicken egg white, which may have contributed to the levels reported in the antibody studies.