United Poultry Concerns
PO Box 150 • Machipongo, VA 23405-0150


6 January 2005
Contact: Karen Davis 757-678-7875

Scientific Expert Urges Less Cruel Method of Killing Chickens and Other Birds

“I think the waterbath has to be replaced. Effectiveness of the stun cannot be determined and it causes inevitable pain.” – Dr. Mohan Raj

UPC Detailed Summary: http://www.upc-online.org/slaughter/10505drraj.htm

Machipongo, Va. – On December 16, 2004, Dr. Mohan Raj gave a seminar on the “Welfare, Economic and Practical Implications of Gas Stunning Prior to Poultry Slaughter” at the US Department of Agriculture. Dr. Raj is Senior Research Fellow in the Farm Animal Division of the School of Clinical Veterinary Science at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.

Noting that the purpose of stunning is to “perform slaughter without causing avoidable fear, anxiety, pain, suffering, and distress,” Dr. Raj said that the standard poultry industry method of dragging shackled birds head down through a cold salted electrified waterbath trough, used because it is “simple and cheap,” is “not conducive to good welfare.”

For example, over 90 percent of birds flap their wings due to the pain of being shackled, and evidence shows that birds suffer complex pain in being electrically “stunned.” Birds are unlikely to be rendered unconscious or pain-free, according to EEG criteria for unconsciousness and insensibility. Since physical signs like absence of breathing (apnea) are the same in properly and improperly stunned birds, these signs cannot accurately indicate the subjective condition of an electrically “stunned” bird.

By contrast, Dr. Raj said that gaseous stunning based on the use of argon or nitrogen – Controlled Atmosphere Stunning (CAS) – can “eliminate the problems inherent in multiple-bird waterbath electrical stunning.” The birds are stun/killed in the crates prior to shackling. More than 30 percent carbon dioxide (CO2) is not recommended, however, as birds show aversion to CO2 by gasping, shaking their heads, stretching their necks to breathe, and showing signs that in human brain regions are associated with pain and panic. Like slaughter (severing the carotid arteries) without stunning, “inhalation of carbon dioxide is distressing and inevitably painful."

Birds subjected to argon/nitrogen-based gases do not show aversion because argon and nitrogen induce a state of anoxia (lack of oxygen), rather than the suffocation induced by carbon dioxide. Whereas birds have chemical receptors in their lungs that are acutely sensitive to CO2, they do not have receptors to detect argon, nitrogen, lack of oxygen (anoxia), or reduced oxygen (hypoxia). For this reason, they do not suffer the pain and panic induced by exposure to CO2.

From a practical standpoint, Dr. Raj said that suppliers of CAS systems perform thorough risk assessments and ensure the health and safety of operators and that CAS gases are already being used in modified atmosphere packaging of foods. He stressed that equipment manufacturers and poultry producers should “share cooperate responsibility for ensuring welfare.”

However, this is not the case under the current electricity-based system that Dr. Raj stressed is inherently inhumane. While noting that “meat quality” is an ill-defined term in industry parlance, Dr. Raj said that Controlled Atmosphere Stunning has industry benefits, but that “If the humane goal fails, it doesn’t matter what the meat quality is.”

Karen Davis, President
United Poultry Concerns
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405
Phone: 757-678-7875

United Poultry Concerns is a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl. www.upc-online.org

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