Stunning and live-shackling birds during the slaughtering process are set to come under the welfare spotlight of a major Farm Animal Welfare Council report, due to be published later this year.

Speaking at the recent FAWC open meeting in London, David Henderson outlined progress by the working group looking at the slaughter of white meat species. It follows on from the 2003 read meat report.

It looked at the slaughter process of broilers, end-of-lay hens, plus ducks geese and turkeys. It also looked beyond the slaughter process, including catching and transport.

While he refused to reveal any of the report’s conclusions, Prof Henderson hinted at the group’s concerns that arose when reviewing the evidence. Evidence consisted of scientific papers, expert advice, site visits plus consultation with stakeholders.

“Live shackling is something that concerns us greatly, but unfortunately, it is a necessary process for water-bath electrical stunning.” He believes it is likely to be painful because birds are inverted and hung in a shackle with pressure on the periosteum, which is a very sensitive tissue.

“We would like to see industry address this procedure more vigorously. For example, there are new plants being installed with lines that are too long and convoluted with too many bends before stunning.

“We are not happy with live shackling and would like to see it done away with over a number of years.”

There are a number of methods used for killing poultry. First there are the electrical methods, where birds are hung and heads immersed in water for stunning. “We would like to see government and industry co-operating to develop better methods,” said Prof Henderson.

“We have methods in use, which we believe don’t always give birds the right current, as different birds can have a different electrical resistance. There are also concerns over missed stuns and pre-stun shocks.”

Another method is controlled atmospheric stunning, which instead kills birds using gases. “Despite some drawbacks of this system, there are great benefits, as it avoids live shackling,” he said.

Avoiding live shackling is particularly beneficial to end-of-lay cull hens and heavy birds, such as turkeys.

However, Bernard Matthews’ technical director and chair of the British Poultry Council processing committee, Jeremy Hall, highlighted that about 90% of turkeys in UK are killed in this [controlled atmospheric stunning] way and, therefore, are not live shackled. “We believe this is the way it should be done.”

The report goes in front of stakeholders in August before publication in the late autumn.