The move, celebrated by animal welfare advocates, is part of the company’s promise to convert all its operations away from shackling live, conscious animals and electrical stunning of chickens.
Stunning is a step that renders animals insensible to pain before processing. Most U.S. poultry plants use electricity, a method introduced in the 1960s. By contrast, CAS, which has been widely adopted in Europe and supported by leading animal welfare organizations, changes the concentrations of gas in the air the chickens breathe to bring about a loss of consciousness.
In a typical poultry plant, employees pick up live birds to shackle them upside down while they’re still conscious. With its CAS system, Perdue uses increasing levels of carbon dioxide to calm, then sedate the chickens, before bringing about an irreversible loss of consciousness prior to processing. Since birds are stunned before handling, no bird is upside-down while conscience for any period of time. This, according to Perdue, improves poultry welfare – and creates a better working environment for employees.
“Since implementing the CAS system, we’re seeing measurable poultry welfare improvements throughout the process, as well as improvements in product quality. Our technology uses both carbon dioxide and oxygen in the mix, which creates less stress on the birds as they go through the chambers,” said Bruce Stewart-Brown, DVM, senior vice president of food safety, quality and live production. “In addition, shackling an unconscious bird increases accuracy and proper placement in the shackles as they continue to move through the process of being harvested. The difference is night and day.”
Perdue’s Milford facility, the largest organic poultry plant in the U.S., supplies 1.2 million organic and no-antibiotics-ever chickens per week for the Perdue, Perdue Harvestland, Coleman Organic and customer-owned brands. Perdue will continue the gradual conversion of the rest of its harvest plants to CAS, with the next installation planned for 2019.
In 2016, Perdue announced a comprehensive program to accelerate advancements in animal care. As part of that, Perdue became the first company to commit to 100 percent controlled atmosphere stunning, along with significant improvements. Those changes contributed to Perdue achieving the second highest of six levels in the most recent global Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare, released February 22.
Next step: improve the rest of the live-bird handling process
The controlled atmosphere stunning is the first phase of a more than $15-million-project to change live bird handling at the Milford facility. In the second phase, covered trucks bring the birds to the plant in redesigned transport crates, and deliver them to a fully-enclosed, temperature-controlled, de-stressing staging area prior to processing called “lairage” area.
The transport crates are then transferred to the CAS system, so the birds stay calm and are never handled when conscious. This new process, the first of its kind in the U.S., will be operational in the fall of 2018.