New York Times unveils Bell & Evans' new, humane stunning system.

Date: 
Fri, 10/22/2010

10/22/2010 - In the October 21, 2010 article, New Way to Help Chickens Cross to Other Side, by William Neuman of the New York Times, he outlines how premium chicken producer, Bell & Evans in Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania is preparing to switch to a more stress-free, humane system of killing their birds. The new system uses carbon dioxide gas to gently render the birds unconscious, 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." 

The new system, built by Angila Autoflow, is designed to put birds to sleep gently, in the same way that a person undergoes anesthesia before surgery. The birds will arrive at the processing plant in special containers that will go directly into a chamber in which carbon dioxide is slowly added, displacing some of the oxygen and rendering the birds unconscious. Only then will the workers handle the birds and hang them on the shackles. The new system is better for workers also. The live hang area is dimly lighted to keep birds from being startled, and workers have to contend with the stress and dust from struggling, flapping chickens. 

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."

Mr. Sechler chose this system after years of research and feels it's better than similar gas-stunning systems used in Europe. "Those systems," he says, "often deprive birds of oxygen too quickly, which may cause them to suffer." He expects the meat to be of higher quality because the birds faced less stress and also there would be less bruising and broken wings when they died. The gas technology is expensive. It will cost about $3 million to convert Bell & Evans' operations and more over time to run the systems, but Mr. Sechler predicted that consumers would come to demand birds slaughtered in the new way... which would force the rest of the industry to gradually switch over.

The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has been pushing chicken processors for years to switch to gas stunning systems, in part because it does not believe that electrical stunning, the current form of slaughter, works.

Bell & Evans said it would begin selling chickens slaughtered using the new technology in April, 2011. The company, which processes about 840,000 birds a week, distributes its Raised without Antibiotics and Organic chickens nationwide.