American Humane Association approves decompressing chickens

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2010:
(published October 5, 2010)
DENVER–Former Pew Charitable Trusts
deputy director of philanthropic services Robin
Ganzert took office on August 31, 2010 as new
chief executive officer of the American Humane
Association with a statement distancing the AHA
from “extreme ideas purported by those who argue
thatŠpeople have no right to raise animals for
Ganzert in her next sentence mentioned
“the inhumane farming practices that contributed
to the massive egg recall” due to salmonella
contamination of eggs produced primarily by farms
owned by Austin “Jack” DeCoster, whose abusive
methods on some of those same farms were exposed
only weeks earlier by the vegan advocacy group
Mercy for Animals.

Then the AHA, in its first farm animal
policy action under Ganzert, on September 7,
2010 endorsed what it termed “a new method of
controlled-atmosphere stunning for poultry called
Low Atmospheric Pressure System, or LAPS, as a
humane practice,” based on unpublished research
presented to the AHA Farm Animal Welfare
Scientific Advisory Committee in July 2010 by
Yvonne Vizzier Thaxton, Ph.D. of Mississippi
State University.
Developed by the poultry harvester
company TechnoCatch LLC and OK Foods Inc., the
LAPS method of “controlled atmosphere” stunning
is not the approach usually meant by the term,
and certainly not the “controlled atmosphere”
approach advocated by People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals since 2004 as a more humane
method of poultry slaughter than conventional
shackling and decapitation.
“Controlled atmosphere” poultry killing
usually refers to gassing the birds with
nitrogen, argon, or carbon dioxide.
Explained the AHA media release, “LAPS
is used to thin the air, reducing available
oxygen (similar to high-altitude conditions).
Unlike other controlled-atmosphere stunning
systems, it is not necessary to add any gaseous
substances–the atmosphere is controlled by
reducing the volume of oxygen. The research is
to be published in the Journal of Applied Poultry
Research this winter. The USDA has said in a
letter that it does not object to the system and
OK Foods, Inc. will begin its use.”
The language of the AHA release recalled
the March 1950 National Humane Review article “Is
the Decompression Chamber an Improvement Over
Other Methods of Euthanasia?” by Richard L.
Bonner, then general manager of the Los Angeles
Department of Animal Regulation, through which
the AHA endorsed decompression as a method of
killing homeless dogs and cats.
“This new method is based on the
decompression process and employs a chamber in
which the air pressure is lower than normal,”
wrote Bonner. “In the two years that we have
been working with it, we’ve referred to it
progressively as the altitude chamber,
decompression chamber, and low pressure chamber.
The air pressure is lowered, or decreased,
which has the same effect on those entering it as
ascending into a high altitude without an oxygen
maskŠThis lowers the amount of oxygen carried in
the bloodŠIf oxygen is not administered and the
air pressures are low enough, human or animal
will in a short time cease to breathe and the
heart will stop a few minutes later.”
Bonner acknowledged that “slow rates of
decompression resulted in some apprehension and
motion by both dogs and cats,” while “Rapid
decompression to [the equivalent of] 55,000 feet
in three seconds showed both cats and dogs to be
motionless in three to five seconds with a blank
look, then pass into a convulsive state lasting
some ten seconds, with little or no motion after
20 seconds.”
Explained Bonner, “Death caused by lower
air pressures differs from an asphixial type of
death,” caused by lack of oxygen, “in that
asphyxia results in an accumulation of carbon
dioxide in the tissues of the body, causing
violent respiratory effort and struggling,
whereas a decreased atmospheric pressure results
in anoxia and does not give rise to an increased
carbon dioxide content in the tissues; hence
there are no untoward effects.”
Bonner’s arguments were accepted and
promoted by the AHA for more than 20 years. In
1972, however, the city of Berkeley,
California banned decompression as inhumane. San
Francisco and Portland, Oregon followed in 1976
and 1977, respectively. Other cities followed.
By the end of 1985 decompression was no longer
used to kill shelter animals anywhere in the
U.S., was outlawed for use on dogs and cats in
24 states, and was outlawed for use on any
animals in 12 states. Decompression has
subsequently been prohibited in most nations that
ever used it.

AVMA disapproves

“Decompression is unacceptable for
euthanasia,” according to the American
Veterinary Medical Association Guidelines on
Euthanasia, “because of numerous disadvantages.
(1) Many chambers are designed to produce
decompression at a rate 15 to 60 times faster
than that recommended as optimum for animals,
resulting in pain and distress attributable to
expanding gases trapped in body cavities. (2)
Immature animals are tolerant of hypoxia, and
longer periods of decompression are required
before respiration ceases. (3) Accidental
recompression, with recovery of injured animals,
can occur. (4) Bleeding, vomiting, convulsions,
urination, and defecation, which are
aesthetically unpleasant, may develop in
unconscious animals.”

PETA disapproves

PETA research association Kellie Heckman,
Ph.D. critiqued the LAPS approach in February
2009, calling it LAPK, for “Low Atmospheric
Pressure Killing.” Wrote Heckman, “To date,
the only published report on the use of LAPK for
poultry that discusses animal welfare is
‘Identifying Process Variables for a Low
Atmospheric Pressure Stunning-Killing System’ by
J.L. Purswell, J.P. Thaxton (not the same Thaxton
quoted by the AHA), and S.L. Branton, published
in the Journal of Applied Poultry Research in
“Purswell and colleagues present concerns
with the use of controlled atmosphere stunning,
including the issue of achieving a uniform
concentration of gases,” Heckman summarized.
“This has not been cited as a welfare concern
when using a controlled atmosphere that kills,
rather than merely stunning birds. In fact,
controlled atmosphere killing [with gases] has
been used successfully in Europe since 1995
without compromising the welfare of poultry or
the health and safety of workers. It is
supported by a wide range of scientific experts
and animal welfare organizations, e.g., Temple
Grandin, Ian Duncan, Mohan Raj, PETA, the
Humane Society of the U.S., Compassion In World
Farming, and the World Society for the
Protection of Animals, and by a plethora of
published, peer-reviewed reports. Not a single
published study supports the authors’ concerns.”
Continued Heckman, “A change in pressure
may have immediate consequences to multiple
physiological systems in birds. John
Brackenbury, Ph.D., an expert in bird
physiology, suggests that the [avian] ear is
sensitive to changes in pressure and that damage
to the middle ear during LAPK is likely. In
addition,” Heckman mentioned, “Dr. Ole Næsbye
Larsen, Ph.D., an expert in bird physiology at
high altitudes, stated that a rapid decrease in
pressure would likely result in the bird’s
eardrum bulging, leading to rupture.
“Since the publication of the Purswell
report in 2007,” Heckman noted, an additional
report on LAPK was published in 2008 in Poultry
Science,” edited by Yvonne Vizzier-Thaxton, the
AHA Farm Animal Welfare Scientific Advisory
Commiittee member. This report, Heckman wrote,
“provides the first introduction of commercial
plans for using LAPK, and its sole interest is
the quality of broiler breast meat from animals
stunned by a low-pressure method relative to
electrical immobilization/stunning. The report
cites the use of a commercial prototype of a
low-pressure harvest system developed by
Techno-catch LLC, of Kosiciusko, Mississippi.”
Concluded Heckman, “PETA cannot condone
the use of LAPK for poultry in any setting.”

CIWF, WSPA oppose

“The way animals are killed is a crucial
welfare issue,” said Philip Lymbery, chief
executive of Compassion In World Farming. “No
new method of slaughter should be employed until
it has been proved to be humane. In the case of
low atmospheric pressure stunning for poultry,
we would want to see clear scientific evidence to
show that it is non-aversive to the birds
involved. It has to date been a view that this
method is not humane and that therefore some very
clear scientific evidence would be needed before
it could be regarded as humane.”
Said World Society for the Protect-ion of
Animals chief executive Mike Baker, after
obtaining comment on the AHA announcement from
senior staff, “The WSPA position is that if
animals are slaughtered for food, this should be
done humanely and all animals should be stunned
effectively before slaughter. There is, as yet,
no clear evidence that the LAPS for stunning
poultry is humane. Therefore WSPA cannot support
this method of stunning poultry.”

UPC critique

Commented United Poultry Con-cerns
founder Karen Davis, “I was not aware that a
LAPS method of stunning birds was so far advanced
as to have possible commercial use in U.S.
slaughter operations. It sounds similar to
putting animals in a vacuum chamber. If
decompression was banned in the U.S. for use on
dogs and cats, given that birds, including
chickens, have been scientifically characterized
as having in all important respects the same
neurophysiology as mammals, it is reasonable to
conclude that the suffering endured by dogs and
cats in being subjected to decompression would be
similarly experienced by chickens and turkeys,
quails and other birds. Chickens and other
birds, like dogs and cats, would experience
excruciating pain, panic and other forms of
intense suffering. It’s conceivable,” Davis
said, “that birds, or certain birds, could
suffer even more than mammals, and take longer
to die.”
As an example of possible differences in
species response, Davis mentioned that while
chickens “frequently revive from apparent
unconsciousness following exposure to carbon
dioxide,” ducks are even harder to kill by that
method, apparently due to adaptations for
swimming long distances underwater.

Other views

“I have looked over various descriptions
of LAPS and do not believe it is similar to the
decompression method of killing widely banned in
the U.S.,” opined Rick Bogle of the Alliance for
Animals, who has been pursuing litigation
against laboratory use of decompression. “LAPS
appears to be a system of oxygen deprivation,”
Bogle said. “The banned system isn’t a ban on
decompression, which in and of itself isn’t
generally harmful; the rate of decompression is
the key factor.
“When used to kill,” said Bogle, “the
decompression is rapid and results in gaseous
bubbles forming throughout the body. In the case
of LAPS, the effect appears to be stunning,
something that, according to humans who have
experienced rapid decompression, and from
descriptions of animals being rapidly
decompressed, isn’t common.”
Countered Humane Farm Animal Care founder
Adele Douglass, who before starting HFAC founded
the AHA animal product certification program,
“The LAPS method has never been tested
commercially. It is the decompression chamber
for poultry.”
“We’ll be interested to see the Thaxton
study when it is published,” said Humane Farming
Association founder Brad Miller, “but at this
point it’s too soon to make an informed comment.”
Agreed Humane Society of the U.S. factory
farming campaign senior director Paul Shapiro,
“Until the research is published, it will be
difficult to have a conclusive opinion on it.
Some science shows that rapid decompression is
very painful. I have heard that slow
decompression may be painless. Of course birds
are different than mammals, but some humans
report a sense of euphoria when slowly introduced
to low-oxygen environments such as high
Bonner in his March 1950 article
extensively described the euphoric effect,
discovered by University of Southern California
professor of aviation medicine Charles F. Lombard
through experimentation on more than 100,000
flight training cadets during World War II. But
euphoria did not appear to be among the
sensations experienced by animals being
decompressed to death, using either the slow or
fast approaches.

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.