It augured ill for the holidays: I’d suddenly lost my appetite for chicken (and turkey, too) after learning how some poultry in this country are slaughtered from a recent piece in the New York Times. It didn’t help that I was suffering from chicken overkill (sorry), having thawed and eaten it for a week to make room in the freezer for some wonderful local ice cream that rarely goes on sale.
The piece said the birds are hung upside down in leg shackles and electrically stunned before their throats are slit. The electric shock is supposed to render poultry insensible until they’re dead, but sometimes, the animals wake up. And what about the stress they suffer beforehand as they’re transported, heels over head, down the line?
On a more upbeat note, the article was actually about gas stunning, a less traumatic alternative used in other countries and soon to be adopted by two U.S. producers, Bell & Evans and Mary’s Chickens. Using this method, which has been endorsed by Dr. Grandin and PETA, the birds lose consciousness under carbon dioxide gas before they’re hung and dispatched. CO2 equipment is more expensive, so the cost will be passed along to consumers as it is with other green and humane labels. The companies are also struggling with the right words to use on an end-of-life label that will help consumers make humane choices.
Some humane slaughter procedures, as well as rules forbidding confinement of poultry, are already required by labels such as Certified Humane and Animal Welfare Approved. AWA lists CO2 stunning as the preferred slaughter method, and Certified Humane limits the time birds can be shackled and hung before electric stunning to 90 seconds or less. They must also be shielded from what’s around them with curtains, the way we are, say, when we go to the emergency room.
So now I’m ready, once again, to order our customary heirloom, pastured, humanely raised Thanksgiving turkey, and to eat chicken that’s had a certified humane life--and death.
What You Can Do
For a list of truly green and humane animal product seals to look for, see this excerpt from my book, Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices.
This fall, the USDA is considering new rules regarding poultry access to the outdoors. Humane slaughter is not yet required for the USDA Certified Organic label. Weigh in with your opinion.
Mindy Pennybacker is Whole Living’s “Econundrums” columnist. See her answers to reader questions and ask your own here. She is also editor of GreenerPenny.com and author of Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices.