Winter 2006 2007 Poultry Press

UPC Letter in Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association “Provides additional information on poultry slaughter method”

Photo By: L. Parascandola
Chickens are conscious following electric waterbath immobilization and neck cutting

By Karen Davis, PhD
Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) Vol 229, No. 11, December 1, 2006, pp. 1721-1722.

The statement in the November 1, 2006 JAVMA News article1 on poultry slaughter that poultry are rendered unconscious by being run through an electrically-charged waterbath is contradicted by evidence showing that the birds are being immobilized without losing consciousness during the procedure.2 The electrically-charged waterbath is not designed to render birds unconscious, or even pain-free, but to slacken their neck muscles and contract their wing muscles for proper positioning of their heads for the automatic neck-cutting blades. It is also designed to prevent excessive struggling of the birds as the blood drains from their necks during bleedout, to promote rapid bleeding (less than 90 seconds) and loosen the birds’ feathers after they are dead.
The method was developed in the 20th century to perform strictly commercial functions rooted in farming practices such as those described in a 1937 manual, Marketing Poultry Products,3 by Benjamin and Pierce, who wrote: “It is necessary that the brain be pierced with a knife so that the muscles of the feather follicles are paralyzed, allowing the feathers to come out easily.”

In the 1990s, it was established that chickens slaughtered in the United States were being given weak, painful currents ranging between 12 mA and 50 mA per bird to avoid the appearance of internal hemorrhage in the carcasses.4 Meanwhile, Neville Gregory and his colleagues at the University of Bristol argued that currents under 75 mA should never be used if the goal was to reduce bird suffering rather than increase it.5 Gregory observed, moreover, that birds who are truly stunned (rendered unconscious) and birds who are merely electrically paralyzed look the same, making it virtually impossible to tell the difference between these totally different conditions.

Even under the best circumstances, Bilgili6 and others have identified major welfare problems associated with the waterbath, including birds being painfully shocked by splashing electrified water overflowing at the entrance to the stun cabinet and the fact that electrical resistance can vary between and within a single slaughter plant, reflecting differences in stunners and circuits and a wide range of other variables including the birds’ own bodies.

At a poultry slaughter seminar hosted by the USDA on December 16, 2004, Mohan Raj of the University of Bristol presented overwhelming evidence against the electrically-charged, multiple-bird waterbath.7 He concluded that while the method is “widely practiced because it is simple and cheap,” it “cannot be controlled” and therefore, “is not conducive to maintaining good welfare.”  

Karen Davis, PhD
President, United Poultry Concerns

References available at

Winter 2006 2007 Poultry Press