Sunday, October 24, 2010

Incremental steps...

With all the charges and counter-charges about animal welfare, some entrepreneurs are looking to provide answers. This is why I think patience and listening can reduce, but not eliminate, the bulk of the public apprehension about animal agriculture.
Two premium chicken producers, Bell & Evans in Pennsylvania and Mary’s Chickens in California, are preparing to switch to a system of killing their birds that they consider more humane. The new system uses carbon dioxide gas to gently render the birds unconscious before they are hung by their feet to have their throats slit, sparing them the potential suffering associated with conventional slaughter methods.
“When you grab a chicken, turn it upside down and put it on the line, it’s stress, stress, stress,” said Scott Sechler, the owner of Bell & Evans. “Our system is designed so that we put them to sleep without stress and we kill them without stress.”
That is sure to appeal to a segment of the chicken-buying public. But telling them about it presents a marketing challenge.
“Most of the time, people don’t want to think about how the animal was killed,” said David Pitman, whose family owns Mary’s Chickens.
Anglia Autoflow, the company that is building the knock-out systems for the two processors, calls the process “controlled atmosphere stunning,” but Mr. Pitman said his company was considering the phrase “sedation stunning” for use on its packages. Also on the short-list: “humanely slaughtered,” “humanely processed” or “humanely handled.”
The trick, he said, is to communicate the goal of the new system, which is to ensure that the birds “not have any extra pain or discomfort in the last few minutes of their lives.”
In a typical processing plant, birds are unloaded in what is known as the “live hang area.” Workers hang the chickens upside down from metal shackles connected to a mechanical rail that conveys them into the plant. They go first into a unit that uses a mild electric shock to make them unconscious, and then they are brought to the “kill machine,” where a blade cuts their throat and they bleed to death.
In the new system, birds will arrive at the processing plant in special containers that will go directly into a chamber to which carbon dioxide is slowly added, displacing some of the oxygen and making the birds unconscious. Only then will workers handle the birds and hang them on the shackles.
Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and a prominent livestock expert, consulted with Bell & Evans as the company worked with Anglia to design its system. She said it was better because the chickens were not aware of what was happening to them. “Birds don’t like being hung upside down,” Dr. Grandin said. “They get really stressed out by that.”[More]
I don't underestimate the endorsement by Temple Grandin, a voice that carries weight with both sides.  Nor do I dismiss the economics of this upgrade, but remain convinced the market will support such measures.

We can make this transition to different meat production techniques that allay consumer dismay and exact recoverable costs.  It will just take time, and during that interval, getting in consumer faces is the wrong strategy, IMHO.


Anonymous said...

the small abattoir (700 week) that takes our pigs put in a co2 gas chamber a few years ago...good for pigs and worker safety as previously they used electric shock too kill them..quality has improved and workers also less stressed.regards-kevin

From Virginia said...

CO2 is getting pretty common in pork. Poultry has launched a new one, I think in OK, using simulated high altitude sickness, i.e. reduced air pressure and oxygen. It is said to produce a euphoric condition leading to unconsciousness.