A new method for stunning livestock at slaughter may have the potential for significant animal welfare benefits, as well as having operational and economic advantages, concluded a workshop held by independent charity the Humane Slaughter Association.

Low Atmospheric Stunning (LAPS) is a method which utilizes controlled reduction in air pressure causing oxygen insufficiency - in humans, unconsciousness caused by oxygen insufficiency is associated with little or no discomfort.

The meeting was attended by participants with scientific, technical, animal welfare and legislative interests. Presentations were given by Dr. Karen Christensen of OK Foods, which is successfully using the method with broilers, and Dr. Dorothy McKeegan of the University of Glasgow, who has undertaken research work evaluating the humanness of LAPS.

The LAPS system at OK Foods has been developed over three years with Mississippi State University and the University of Arkansas, together with the manufacturer Technocatch of Kosciusko, Miss. It is capable of handling over 20,000 chickens an hour and has been in full commercial use at OK Foods since early 2011. McKeegan's research has focused on evaluating the humaneness of the method using EEG and ECG data from the birds.

"The experience gained in using the system, together with the research, appears to have produced very positive results from welfare, operational and economic perspectives," said James Kirkwood, chief executive of HAS. "The LAPS system appears to offer significant advantages over other commercial methods of slaughter currently in use for broilers and we hope that, by bringing interested parties together, the workshop will stimulate further research and development of the system both for broilers and other species."