Penn State faculty start industry-backed poultry transport certification program

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  January/February 2011:

STATE COLLEGE,  Pa.–Pennsylvania State University faculty in the first week of 2011 introduced what they termed “a certification program believed to be the first to offer third-party quality assurance training on poultry handling and transportation for ‘catch crews.'”

The program was developed as a collaboration among 12 organizations and government agencies which operate in support of agribusiness,  among them the National Chicken Council,  United Egg Producers,  National Turkey Federation,  USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service,  and American Veterinary Medical Association.

Training sessions are to center on a manual edited by Eva Wallner-Pendleton,  DVM,  of the Penn State veterinary and biomedical sciences department.  Downloadable from <>, the manual lists 12 other contributing authors,  and thanks 17 people for sharing expertise.

The manual does not prescribe certification standards for poultry handling,  but extensively describes what the authors believe to be best practice.

Writes Wallner-Pendleton in the introduction,  “A new era of animal welfare ‘certification,  documentation,  and third party auditing’ is becoming a requirement in many countries.  More and more buyers are requesting-or requiring-animal welfare certification with audits.  Some retailers also require their suppliers to participate in these programs and document the training.  These requirements must also be met by the loading and transportation companies they hire. This manual will help employees of these companies to understand animal welfare and to share company and industry expectations on handling poultry.”

Studies have documented that about 3% of chickens raised for meat and 29% of spent hens sent to slaughter suffer broken bones at some point in capture,  handling,  and transportation.  Summarizes Wallner-Pendleton,  without direct reference to the research, “Improper catching, handling, and loading practices create stress and may cause trauma to the birds.  But catchers who are careful and conscientious can reduce these potential injuries.”

The Penn State poultry transport program is “funded in part under the umbrella of the Avian Influenza Cooperative Agricultural Project,  supported by the USDA-NIFA AFRI Animal Biosecurity Competitive Program,”  the manual acknowledges.

Emphasizes Wallner-Pendleton,  “Bio-security and disease prevention are also important aspects of poultry handling and transportation.  Loading crews,  transport vehicles, and equipment visit many farms in the course of their work.  Cleaning and disinfecting equipment between farms and wearing cleaned and laundered clothing are very important to prevent the accidental transfer of disease between farms… This manual includes a chapter on basic disease recognition and appropriate response for crews who suspect they may be handling sick birds.”

A chapter on euthanasia specifically lists as unacceptable “unapproved methods of physical trauma,  drowning,  poisons such as cyanide or strychnine,  [and] formaldehyde or other highly irritating fumes.”

When asked specifically whether  “unapproved methods of physical trauma” include killing poultry by live burial or tossing them into a woodchipper,  as was done in several disease control situations and after natural disasters in 2003-2005, Wallner-Pendleton told ANIMAL PEOPLE,  “We are addressing only those forms of euthanasia that may be necessary to euthanize an animal found injured/unable to be transported.  Our primary reference for the manual was the Guidelines set forth by the AVMA Animal Welfare Committee.”

The AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia do not exclude killing animals by live burial or tossing them into a woodchipper in disease control situations.

The chapter on euthanasia mentions that “Captive bolt guns are currently under research for use in large birds, such as mature turkeys,”  but does not mention the so-called Low Atmospheric Pressure System endorsed by the American Humane Association in September 2010.  Presented by the AHA as “a new method of controlled-atmosphere stunning for poultry,”  the LAPS system is not the approach usually meant by the term “controlled atmosphere,” which usually refers to gassing birds with nitrogen,  argon,  or carbon dioxide.

Rather,  LAPS kills birds by decompression,  a method recommended by the AHA for killing dogs and cats for about 30 years beginning in 1950,  but not used in the U.S. since 1985,  prohibited as inhumane for use with dogs and cats in 24 states,   and prohibited as inhumane for use with any animal in 12 states.

The Penn State manual cites as a reference the American Humane Certified Farm Animal Program to Develop Humane Livestock Transport,  published in 2009.  No other animal care certification programs directed by humane organizations are mentioned.

“Don’t ever go with a reporter to watch any video footage,” the Media Relations chapter advises poultry handlers and haulers, under the subheading “Ambushes.”

“If a reporter or camera crew arrives while birds are being loaded or unloaded,”  the manual adds,  “employees should stop their work and go on break until the visitors have left.  The crew foreman should call the farm manager or other company representative who will decide on an appropriate course of action.”



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