What the Experts Say
Charlotte Berg, D.V.M., Ph.D.
May 4th 2007
To whom it may concern:
I have been asked by the US based organization “Mercy for Animals” to review and comment on a 10-minute video from a poultry slaughter plant in the US. My name is Charlotte Berg, and I am a veterinarian with many years of national and international experience in the field of poultry husbandry and poultry welfare. This includes working with developing guidelines and legislation in relation to poultry handling, stunning and slaughter at commercial slaughter plants. The comments given below are my personal only, and may not necessarily reflect the view of any organization to which I am affiliated.
The video has obviously been filmed using a hidden camera and it is partly difficult to establish exactly what is going on. Irrespective of this, several sections of the video is certainly clear enough to reveal unacceptable conditions and obvious maltreatment of live animals, such as throwing heavy birds in the air or deliberately punching them.
Most of the problems appear to be related to how the staff at the slaughter plant handles the birds. There are several examples of rough handling and there also appears to be obvious indications of deliberate violence directed towards the animals. In some cases there seems to be no reason whatsoever for these actions. In other cases it is unclear if the actions have been encouraged by the management of the plant for production reasons or if they are initiatives of the single employees. In any case, the actions are unacceptable from an animal welfare point of view, and are definitely far below the standard of animal handling that could be expected at professional slaughter facilities.
Based on current knowledge of bird pain perception and stress reactions, it can be concluded that the birds handled this way will suffer considerably. To a large extent, this suffering is unnecessary.
Suspending large turkeys by shackling them by their legs can be debated from an animal welfare point of view, as research indicate that this procedure is painful. Nevertheless, the procedure is widespread and generally accepted within the industry worldwide. Waterbath stunning also has some animal welfare drawbacks but can, when correctly handled, be considered quite acceptable from an animal welfare point of view. Like any other system for slaughter, the system shown in the video has to be properly managed to work. This certainly involves having skilled staff employed, with sufficient knowledge of animal welfare aspects of live bird handling and of the consequences when birds are not handled with proper care. The rough handling seen on the video is not only unacceptable from an animal welfare point of view, but is most likely also detrimental from a product quality point of view, which makes it even more difficult to understand. It is in the interest of the plant management to encourage careful handling of animals, both to improve their reputation from an animal welfare point of view and to improve product quality and thereby the monetary return. Deliberate violence is never acceptable and should be clearly discouraged by the management.
It is the responsibility of the slaughter plant management to ensure that every single employee involved in live bird handling, stunning and slaughter has received proper training and instructions in relation to animal welfare, and that these instructions are complied with.
DVM, PhD, Associate Professor in Animal Hygiene
Dr. Berg is a veterinary officer at the Swedish Animal Welfare Agency. She participates in expert groups on bird welfare for the European Union and is a member of the Working Group on Poultry Welfare of the European branch of the World Poultry Science Association.