Diversity, not uniformity: slaughter and electrical waterbath stunning procedures in Belgian slaughterhouses

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Data on slaughter and stunning protocols in Belgian poultry abattoirs were collected, and subsequently the survival rate after electrical waterbath stunning in 1,400 animals across 7 selected slaughterhouses was determined. The majority of the abattoirs applied electrical waterbath stunning (72%), whereas the other methods were gas stunning (13%), head-only stunning (6%), and dry stunning (3%). In 6% of the slaughterhouses, the birds were killed without previous stunning, according to religious rites (i.e., ritual or religious slaughter). Although religious slaughter occurred in a substantial number of abattoirs, the customers of the majority of them allowed stunning, provided the animals were not killed by the stunning procedure. Substantial variation both in electrical waterbath devices and technical settings (electrical current type, wave type, voltage, frequency) combinations was observed. These settings did not only differ between slaughterhouses, but also between subsequent visits to the same slaughterhouse. Despite this variation, all systems comprised a constant voltage, multiple bird stunner. The minimum average electrical current that every chicken should receive at a certain frequency, as stated by the European Regulation No 1099/2009, was not achieved for each animal monitored due to the bird's characteristics and the different applied stunning settings, with the exception of all ISA laying hens and broiler breeders in one particular slaughterhouse. The survival rate ranged from 96.0 to 100%, 97.0 to 100%, 68.0%, 72.0 to 85.1%, and 5.6 to 52.4% in 5-wk-old broilers, 6-wk-old broilers, LSL laying hens, ISA laying hens, and broiler breeders, respectively. Monitoring of unconsciousness after passing through the waterbath was not always performed and when it was, there was no uniformity in the applied criteria. It was concluded that a large variation in slaughter and stunning practices exists among slaughterhouses in Belgium. Further research should explore the effect of the different settings on inducing a successful stun and on carcass quality, and assess if the observed variation also exists in other EU member states.

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