Pre-Slaughter Electrical Shock Is Not “Stunning”

Benjamin Franklin described his own experience while trying to electrocute a turkey in 1750.

By Karen Davis, PhD, President, United Poultry Concerns

It is falsely asserted that birds are “stunned” by the pre-slaughter electrified trough water through which they are dragged, face down, hanging by their heels on the disassembly line in the slaughter plants. Never was a term more misused, along with “euthanasia” (a merciful death) to describe murdering animals by torturous means.

It is not possible to humanely stun a chicken, a turkey or other birds in the slaughterhouses. The electrified water is not intended to stun them. It is not designed to render them unconscious or pain-free. It is not meant to kill them. The purpose of their being dragged face down through cold, salted, splashing electrified water, prior to partial throat-cutting, is 1) to fit them to the slaughter machinery and 2) to loosen their feathers after they are dead.

A high level of electrical current that could induce outright death is avoided since it would interfere with “plant efficiency” and cause hemorrhage – a “bloody bird,” in the words of a researcher, making the bird unsalable.

Let us please not falsify the agony endured by the electrically paralyzed birds or mistakenly urge that they be “stunned” by a process that tortures them. The language of “proper electrical stun,” referring to strictly commercial goals, disguises their unspeakable agony.

Tyson Chicken Slaughter plant
Photo by L. Parascandola, Tyson Chicken Slaughter Plant in Richmond, Virginia

Townsend's Chicken Slaughter Plant
Photo by Carol McCormick, Townsend's Chicken Slaughter Plant in Millsboro, Delaware

“When Benjamin Franklin Shocked Himself While Attempting to Electrocute a Turkey” – Smithsonian Magazine

“Franklin believed a turkey killed with electricity would be tastier than one dispatched by conventional means: decapitation.”

Timothy J. Jorgensen, the writer of this November 25, 2021 Smithsonian Magazine article, excerpted below, might have noted that, starting in the 1930s, the use of paralytic electricity was being experimentally researched for mass-production of birds to replace the traditional farm’s use of scrambling their brains with knives to paralyze their muscles. Maybe Franklin’s account “inspired” the burgeoning poultry industry of the 1930s to institutionalize this torturous procedure, which is how the majority of chickens, turkeys, ducks and other birds, including ostriches and emus, are immobilized to this day in the slaughter plants prior to having their necks partially cut by rotating mechanical blades:

According to the Smithsonian article,

“The statesman set out to develop a standard procedure for preparing turkeys with static electricity collected in Leyden jars. One day, while performing a demonstration of the proper way to electrocute a turkey, he mistakenly touched the electrified wire intended for the turkey while his other hand was grounded, thereby diverting the full brunt of the turkey-killing charge into his own body. Writing to his brother John two days later, on Christmas Day in 1750, Franklin detailed what happened next:

‘The company present … say that the flash was very great and the crack as loud as a pistol; yet my senses being instantly gone, I neither saw the one nor heard the other; nor did I feel the stroke on my hand, though I afterward found [that] it raised a round swelling where the fire entered as big as half a pistol bullet, by which you may judge of the quickness of the electrical fire, which by this instance seems to be greater than the sound, light or animal sensation.’

Franklin continues:

‘I then felt what I know not how well to describe—a universal blow through my whole body from head to foot, which seemed within as well as without; after which the first thing I took notice of was a violent, quick shaking of my body, which, gradually remitting, my sense as gradually returned, and I then thought the bottles must be discharged, but could not conceive how, till at last I perceived the chain in my hand, and recollected what I had been about to do. That part of my hand and fingers which held the chain was left white, as though the blood had been driven out, and remained so eight or ten minutes after, feeling like dead flesh; and I had a numbness in my arms and the back of my neck, which continued till the next morning, but wore off. Nothing remains now of this shock but a soreness in my breast bone, which feels as if I had been bruised. I did not fall but suppose I should have been knocked down if I had received the stroke in my head. The whole was over in less than a minute.’”


To conclude:

“The whole” of Franklin’s ordeal was not over “in less than a minute” according to his own testimony about the lingering aftereffects of his sudden electric shock. Birds in the slaughter plants endure sustained facial and whole body shock, following their immersion in the electrified water before slaughter. They are then kept alive and breathing for a while so that their still-beating hearts will continue to pump blood out of their bodies before they are thrown both dead and alive into the splashing scald-water tanks. This is how we treat our fellow creatures. – Karen Davis, United Poultry Concerns

Townsend's Chicken Slaughter Plant
Photo by Carol McCormick, Townsend's Chicken Slaughter Plant in Millsboro, Delaware

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