Genetically-modified roosters aren't fathering chicks like their more-natural predecessors, and that's driving up the price of chicken, writes Reuters' Tom Polansek here. Highlights:

"The world's largest chicken breeder has discovered that a key breed of rooster has a genetic issue that is reducing its fertility, adding to problems constraining U.S. poultry production and raising prices... Aviagen Group's standard Ross male [fathers] as much as 25 percent of [U.S.] chickens raised for slaughter... Sanderson Farms, the third-largest U.S. poultry producer and one of Aviagen's largest customers, said it and Aviagen [have measured and tested] a decline in fertility before determining a genetic issue was at the root of the problem." Aviagen is owned by Germany's EW Group.

The genetically-modified roosters got fat quickly, but "did not breed as much," according to Mike Cockrell, Sanderson's chief financial officer. Also, more of the eggs were duds: "The fertilization went way down, and our hatch has been way down." Aviagen "sent a team of scientists to Sanderson last autumn to study the issue and has acknowledged that an undisclosed change it made to the breed's genetics made the birds 'very sensitive' to being overfed, Cockrell added.

"The issue is hitting an industry that is already suffering from a short supply of breeder birds. The U.S. Agriculture Department last month reduced its U.S. chicken production forecast for 2014, predicting only a 1 percent increase in poundage from 2013, well below the long-run annual average of 4 percent," just as chicken exports are driving up prices and beef and pork prices are also high. Southern Delaware and eastern Maryland form one of the nation's key chicken-producing regions.