Tyson Will Test Gas As A Gentler Way To Slaughter Chickens

"Controlled atmosphere stunning" essentially puts birds to sleep via a lack of oxygen, and one of the world's biggest meat producers is testing it out.

Tyson, one of the world's largest chicken producers, will test out gassing its birds to sleep before slitting their throats — a move, it says, motivated by its aim to become "the world’s most sustainable producer of protein."

The system being tested, known as "controlled atmosphere stunning," generally involves pumping a gas like carbon dioxide or nitrogen into the crates that the chickens are transported in, putting them to sleep as the oxygen levels drop.

Animal welfare advocates including PETA say the technique is a gentler alternative to other methods of rendering chickens unconscious, such as the electric shock methods currently common in the poultry business. "Electric current levels are too low to render birds insensible to pain, and all birds are conscious as their throats are slit," PETA claims.

The chicken industry argued a few years ago that 99% of birds are "totally unconscious after the electrical stun" and said gassed birds "gasp for air and may exhibit behaviors indicating aversion to the gas, including headshaking, wing flapping and convulsions."

Despite the lack of consensus, competitor Perdue has committed to eventually use gas stunning in all facilities and companies including Popeye’s, Chipotle, Carl’s Jr., Hardees, Subway, Sonic, and Wendy’s give purchasing preference to chicken suppliers that use gas, according to the Humane Society. Burger King will transition to using chicken immobilized by gas by 2024.

In an announcement on Wednesday, Tyson also said it had hired a firm called Arrowsight to remotely monitor birds before they're transported to slaughterhouses, ensuring their treatments meets humane guidelines. "Digital video is viewed by trained, off-site auditors as well as plant management to improve animal welfare practices. This allows immediate follow-up if issues are identified," said a Tyson spokesperson.

The company declined to share how much it will invest in animal welfare.

“While we commend Tyson’s investment in animal welfare, time will tell what this means for their birds," said Leah Garces, the US Executive Director for Compassion in World Farming, in an emailed statement. "Their animal welfare program remains vague and is in its beginning stages. I hope the details of their program are publicly clarified in the near future.”

Tyson had previously said is also researching improvements in chicken housing as well as breeding chickens to grow more slowly in order to improve health.

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