Controlled atmosphere poultry stunning moves ahead

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2010:
(Actual press date November 3.)

FREDERICKSBURG, Pennsylvania–Controlled
atmosphere stunning on October 22, 2010 moved an
influential step closer to U.S. industry
acceptance when New York Times business writer
William Neuman broke as an exclusive the
decisions of the premium niche poultry producers
Bell & Evans and Mary’s Chickens to introduce
controlled atmosphere systems in mid-2011.
Bell & Evans, Mary’s Chickens, and MBA
Poultry of Nebraska, which has used controlled
atmosphere stunning since 2005, have among them
about half of 1% of U.S. poultry industry market
share. Bell & Evans kills about 840,000 birds
per week, Neuman said, while Mary’s Chickens
kills about 200,000. Their combined annual
slaughter volume is about equal to the weekly
volume for Tyson Foods.

But Bell & Evans, of Pennsylvania, is
prominent within the poultry industry as a major
supplier to Whole Foods Markets, and as one of
the oldest companies in U.S. agribusiness, begun
circa 1895. Mary’s Chickens, of California,
founded in 1954, has been operated for three
generations by Don Pitman and descendants. MBA
Poultry, marketing “Smart Chickens” since 1998,
is known for technological innovation.
All three companies advertise that they
meet a variety of humane and organic
certification standards, and feed their chickens
a strictly vegetarian diet.
Announced People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals spokesperson Robbyn Brooks,
“Following talks with PETA, Bell & Evans has
pledged to implement within one year’s time the
most advanced slaughter technology for better
animal welfare, a system called ‘slow induction
Explained Brooks, “Slow induction
anesthesia, also referred to as
controlled-atmosphere killing, is used to ensure
that birds experience little discomfort while
they are put to sleep; birds are not removed
from the transportation drawers until after
unconsciousness has been induced. Also appealing
to the company is the fact that the system is
simple and easy to use, operate, and clean.
The birds do not suffer broken wings and legs
while being shackled upside down and are never
scalded to death in defeathering tanks, and
there is no opportunity for workers to abuse
birds” in handling.”
Recent studies have found that up to 40%
of all poultry slaughtered by conventional
methods suffer broken bones during loading for
transport, unloading for slaughter, and while
being shackled upside down on the conveyor belt
that takes them to be mechanically beheaded.
The rate of bone breakage has been
reduced to less than 1% in some operations, but
even if 1% became the industry standard, 1% of
the nine billion chickens who are slaughtered in
the U.S. each year would be 900 million.
“Slow induction anesthesia also improves
worker conditions,” Brooks said, “because
chickens do not struggle as slaughterhouse
workers handle them.”
Actual death in controlled atmosphere
systems comes after the chickens are hung and
beheaded, but in controlled atmosphere systems
the chickens are first rendered permanently
PETA has since 2004 urged U.S. poultry
producers to emulate the controlled atmosphere
systems now widely used in Europe. Some, like
the systems to be installed by Bell & Evans and
Mary’s Chicken, use carbon dioxide gas. Others
use nitrogen or argon gas.
Under campaign pressure from PETA,
McDonald’s Corporation and Tyson Foods agreed to
study controlled atmosphere poultry stunning in
2004 and 2005, respectively, but eventually
both opted to continue using conventional
Bell & Evans owner Scott Sechler told
Neuman of The New York Times that the system his
firm will use is superior to the European
systems. “Those systems, he says, often
deprive birds of oxygen too quickly, which may
cause them to suffer,” wrote Neuman. “They are
also designed to kill the birds, rather than
simply knock them out, something that Sechler is
not comfortable with.”
Said Sechler, “I don’t want the public to say we gas our chickens.”
“Anglia Autoflow, the company that is
building the knock-out systems for the two
processors, calls the process ‘controlled
atmosphere stunning,'” wrote Neuman, “but
Mary’s Chickens Pitman said his company was
considering the phrase ‘sedation stunning’ for
use on its packages. Also on the short-list,”
Neuman said, are “humanely slaughtered,
humanely processed, and humanely handled.
“Bell & Evans said it would begin selling
chickens slaughtered using the new technology in
April,” Neuman added. “Mary’s expects to
install the technology in June.”
Bell & Evans and Mary’s Chicken announced
their acceptance of the PETA-favored version of
controlled atmosphere stunning six weeks after
the American Humane Association on September 7,
2010 endorsed what it termed “a new method of
controlled-atmosphere stunning for poultry called
Low Atmospheric Pressure SystemÅ used to thin the
air, reducing available oxygen (similar to
high-altitude conditions). Unlike other
controlled-atmosphere stunning systems,” the AHA
said, “it is not necessary to add any gaseous
substances–the atmosphere is controlled by
reducing the volume of oxygen.”
The AHA-approved process is in essence
decompression, a killing method not approved by
the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Decompressing dogs and cats to kill them,
promoted by the AHA for more than 30 years
beginning in 1950, eventually became the most
used method of shelter killing, but rapidly fell
into disrepute after it was abandoned by the
cities of Berkeley in 1972, San Francisco in
1976, and Portland, Oregon, in 1977. Houston
and Austin were the last two U.S. cities to use
decompression. Both quit in 1985.

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