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Gas, Electrical Stunning Found to be Equally Humane

by 5m Editor
20 November 2009, at 4:13p.m.

US - Fast-food giant, McDonald's, has published the update on its research comparing controlled atmospheric stunning (CAS) with the conventional electrical method. It found both methods to be equally humane.

McDonald's animal welfare operating principle is that whatever supplier practices are employed, they must be humane.

McDonald's has a longstanding commitment to animal welfare and expects humane treatment of animals by its suppliers in every part of the world where it does business. That is why the company saw the need to work with our US poultry suppliers, Tyson Foods, Inc. and Keystone Foods, LLC to conduct a study on poultry stunning methods. As in most parts of the world, in the US, there are no large-scale chicken producers that currently use the Controlled Atmosphere Stunning (CAS) method, therefore more study is needed to better understand the pros and cons of these methods. Additionally, there is not a consensus among animal welfare experts that one practice is more humane than the other.

Study overview

Together with two of its poultry suppliers, McDonald's embarked on a two-step testing of CAS. The alpha test focused on the methodology and equipment itself, understanding the right mixture and administration of gases to stun effectively, while monitoring the bird reactions during the process. The beta test incorporated the learnings from alpha test to further test the best CAS process at a commercial scale in production.

Dr Ken Opengart, who oversees Keystone's animal welfare practices, stated: "We regularly work with McDonald's to audit animal welfare practices to continually identify, evaluate and implement improvements to make decisions based on available science and research. The research around CAS was incomplete, so we were interested in participating in this study to test this technology and better understand its potential to improve animal welfare."

Over the years, Tyson has reviewed different poultry processing technology, including CAS. These evaluations have considered a number of factors, including animal welfare, scientific studies, US and international production methods, food safety and product quality, employee safety, environmental factors, expected costs and other elements.

"Testing these practices in a commercial environment was critical to understanding the issues," said Dr Kellye Pfalzgraf, who oversees the Tyson Foods' Office of Animal Well-Being.

CAS study outcomes

As a result of the study, the following outcomes were determined:

  • Comparative tests do not indicate that CAS offers significant advantages over the low voltage electrical system already in use by US suppliers, and
  • Globally, McDonald's continues to support our chicken suppliers' use of both controlled atmosphere stunning (CAS) and electrical stunning. For example, the European poultry industry, including McDonald's suppliers, still purchases about 70 per cent of its chicken from suppliers using electrical stunning, and the remainder comes mostly from CAS.

Marie Wheatley, president of the American Humane Association, said: "We believe that humane slaughter of food animals must be performed using the best available science and in a manner that causes minimal or no distress to the animals. We are not aware of any science-based conclusive evidence that the distress chickens experience in existing electric stunning methods is either greater, or less than that with gas anaesthesia induction. Any claim that CAS is more humane is simply not founded on current science and should not be forced on the industry."

Dr Temple Grandin, animal welfare expert and member of McDonald's US Animal Welfare Council, said: "This report is a very well balanced approach to evaluating the pros and cons of these practices. There is always a need for sound science around these important animal welfare considerations, and regardless of the method, good management practices, such as those that McDonald’s requires of its suppliers, are critical to humane treatment of animals."

McDonald's conclusions based on study outcomes

McDonald's participation in this study aligns with our vision of a sustainable supply chain that takes into consideration ethical, environmental and economic impacts. The company says it will continue to monitor evolving research and technology with its US Animal Welfare Council, other independent experts, its global supply chain experts and key poultry suppliers around the world to assess new and improved systems as they become available.

Further Reading

- You can view the full report by clicking here.