Northern Ireland's department of agriculture has launched a consultation into the methods of stunning and killing poultry, with a view to encouraging the use of gas in slaughterhouses rather than electric waterbaths.
Current regulations limit the use of gas to argon and nitrogen, both of which are relatively expensive. But the new proposal suggests also allowing "biphasic carbon dioxide", as is already used elsewhere in Europe. Phase 1 would involve a mix of up to 40% CO2 to stun the birds, followed by Phase 2 of up to 80% CO2 to kill them.
According to the consultation, CO2 has, until now, been excluded because initial research (by Bristol University) suggested it was "aversive to poultry". But more recent research has thrown some doubt on this.
"Taking account of the additional welfare benefits associated with gas killing compared with electric waterbath stunning, and taking account of the most recent research, the Farm Animal Welfare Council considers that the authorised gas mixtures in the UK should be extended," says the document.
"The use of biphasic CO2 will also reduce operating costs. It is therefore anticipated that the proposed changes will facilitate a switch to gas stunning/killing and reduce the use of waterbath systems, which are generally acknowledged to provide a lower standard of welfare."
The changes are planned to come into operation by the end of 2011, so as to give the industry more time to invest ahead of new EU slaughtering legislation, which is due to take effect in 2013. A similar consultation is expected soon from DEFRA for England.
British Poultry Council chief executive Peter Bradnock said the greater use of gas in slaughterhouses was welcome, for cost and welfare reasons. A survey of the BPC's members had revealed that most processors wanted to convert to "controlled atmosphere stunning", partly because retailers were pressing for it, but also because the new EU rules will increase the electrical currents required in waterbaths, which could cause carcass damage.
A spokesman for the Ulster Farmers' Union said that, while there would be little impact on the farming side, there was some concern that smaller slaughterhouses would struggle to meet the estimated £ 600,000 cost of installing a gas unit.
Source: Poultry World / FWi