Whole Living Daily

Chickening Out: In Search of Humanely Slaughtered Poultry

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chickensIt 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.

To find grass-fed poultry near you, go to Eat Wild. And before buying your Thanksgiving bird, consider Certified Humane’s turkey slaughter standards.

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.

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Comments (2)

  • Anyone reading about the ways animals are treated and killed in this country should be horrified. But it's self-deluding to think you can have it both ways. As Jonathan Safran Foer writes in Eating Animals, there are virtually no animals you can buy in this country that didn't suffer incredibly. And even if you manage to source a bird that suffers "less," are you going to refuse to eat animals at other people's homes or in restaurants? It's widely understood that the Humane Certified labels are utterly meaningless. There is ZERO government inspection or enforcement. It's a PR gimmick to lessen the guilt of liberals who can't bear the truth of the meat industry. Even the description you use is pretty silly--so they are hung for less than 90 seconds upside-down in shackles.

    The only true compassionate solution is to eat a plant-based diet. I actually don't understand why that is so daunting to people. It's far healthier & the foods available now are amazing. I could on for pages, but people must educate themselves especially given that our gov't is in cahoots with the dairy and meat lobbies as evidenced by the front page article in the NYTimes last week about the push to use more cheese. And there is nothing green about animal products, they are the Number One cause of global warming and pollution. This is according to the UN assessment report. You can't be a meat-eating environmentalist.

  • So thankful that you posted this. I have been buying certified humane etc for years and that transferring to slaughter was assumed. Now i know better what to look for. People are not going to stop eating meat, ever ..so trying to get them to is not as useful as putting that time and energy into animal welfare. We have made great strides in farming/housing but still not in transport and slaughter, as I hope we do soon. I would really appreciate if you did this for each type of meat (beef etc). Again thank you!

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