Animal welfare research leads to European law reform

29-05-2018 | |
Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

Pan-global research aimed at improving bird welfare during poultry production has led to a change in European Union legislation.

The new regulation, which came into force on 18 May, makes it legal in the European Union to use Low Atmospheric Pressure Stunning (LAPS), which is proven to be a humane method for the pre-slaughter stunning of broilers.

This is the first new stunning method to be added to EU Regulations and provides a high welfare alternative to current commercial approaches.

Stunning systems

It follows the publication of the European Food Safety Authority’s Opinion on LAPS last year, which argued that LAPS should be approved for use in the EU and that the current legislation should be amended.

EFSA ranked LAPS as having the lowest welfare hazards for stunning systems and added that comparing the system to either Water bath or Gas Stunning was not possible as little research using the same scientific methods had been conducted on the other systems.

The research, which involved scientists from the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh in collaboration with colleagues at Mississippi State University, University of Arkansas, University of Florida and Wageningen University and Research, Holland, represents the most extensive welfare assessment of a stunning system for poultry.

LAPS is a novel approach which irreversibly stuns animals by gradually reducing the atmospheric pressure and therefore the amount of oxygen available.


Birds arrive at the processing facility in transport modules which are designed to minimise the stress and discomfort associated with being handled. These modules are placed in a LAPS chamber which is subject to a slow controlled reduction in atmospheric pressure reducing the available oxygen and thus rendering unconsciousness. After that, the process further lowers the air pressure resulting in death. The LAPS cycle lasts 280 seconds.

The researchers developed an innovative welfare assessment based on detailed examination of bird behaviour and physiology during LAPS and were able to demonstrate that LAPS is a welfare friendly method.

Broiler chicken welfare

Dr Dorothy McKeegan, from the University of Glasgow, said: “Our work on LAPS provided an extensive welfare assessment of this novel method, which was utilised to underpin policy change at EU level. The approval of LAPS in Europe is a major development in broiler chicken welfare which paves the way for global uptake of this humane method of stunning.”

Dr Jessica Martin, from the University of Edinburgh, said: “The stunning and slaughter of animals is a key stage in livestock production and the methods we use should always represent the highest welfare standards available.

“Our extensive welfare assessment of LAPS and the resulting change in legislation allowing its use in broiler chickens in the EU, demonstrates high impact science and its application to improve animal welfare.”

LAPS has the potential to improve welfare at killing in other species and this is being investigated in the researchers’ current work.

Tony Mcdougal Freelance Journalist