Lotta Berg: Poultry Emergency Euthanasia

Outbreaks of animal diseases are well documented throughout modern history. Major outbreaks have damaging consequences for animal welfare, for the industry and often cause major disruptions in food supply, especially within the poultry industry. In order to avoid these consequences, killing methods and techniques have been developed to kill poultry on farm, as well as development dedicated emergency plans, guidelines, procedures to shoulder efforts to reduce and prevent large-scale outbreaks.

Despite all these efforts in the past, outbreaks continue to occur. New, integrated methods for culling and disposal must be developed to combat outbreaks that cannot be mitigated or prevented by vaccination. These methods should be capable of supporting large-scale, quick culling campaigns and cadaver disposals without further spreading of diseases, transfer to humans, or putting a liability on the environment. In the EU, although Regulation 1099/2009 covers culling operations, the present techniques often are not compliant, or are often applied in an improper way.

On March 17, 2014, Dr. Lotta Berg, one of Europe’s leading experts in this field and Swedens’ representative within the European Food Safety Authority EFSA, presented at Neiker Tecnalia in Victoria-Gasteiz (Spain) her vision on emergency response, referring to the EU Directive EU 1099/2009. She covered in her presentation the following subjects:

• Different types of poultry and poultry production
• Reasons for euthanasia
• Large‐scale emergencies
• Contingency planning
• Monitoring animal welfare at on‐farm killing
• Critical points, follow‐up and reporting
• Different methods in practice
• Non‐emergency euthanasia

Dr. Berg concluded in her presentation that the Anoxia technique (N2 gas foam) is applicable for killing poultry on small-, medium- and large-scale poultry operations.


DG SANCO study on the various methods of stunning poultry

The purpose of the study (published December 2012) was to investigate the scale of the use of multiple-bird water bath stunners, the possible alternatives and their respective socio-economic and environmental impacts. Additionally, the study had to examine if phasing out the use of water bath stunning as recommended by EFSA is a feasible option and, if so, under which terms.

It is estimated that there are around 5,300 commercial slaughterhouses in the EU, the majority of which are found in France. Where available, data on slaughterhouse capacity suggest significant differences between Member States in terms of individual capacity. This is reflected by the concentration of slaughterhouse sectors within Member States with a highly concentrated sector in some Member States such as Germany, the Netherlands and Italy and a less concentrated sector in other Member States such as Spain, Poland and Hungary. EU slaughterhouses slaughtered around 5.81 billion broiler chickens and had an estimated economic output between €30.6 to €32.5 billion in 2011.

It was estimated that some 16,000 staff handle live birds across the EU at present. Approximately half of these work in Member States where formal training is required by national law. Just under half work in Member States where there are no formal training requirements, though it is probable that on the job training is provided in some of these Member States.
The majority of poultry in the EU is stunned using multiple bird waterbaths. More precisely:

• 81% of broilers are stunned using waterbaths; 9% using CAS
• 83% of end of lay hens are stunned using waterbaths; 7% using CAS
• 61% of parent stock using waterbaths, and 37% using CAS
• 76% of turkeys are stunned using waterbaths, and 24% using CAS.

The most important driver behind the choice of stunning system is installation and running cost, which is cheapest for waterbath systems. Product quality and revenue is also important with certain stunning systems providing quality advantages for specific end markets which often result in higher revenue, for example for breast fillets resulting from CAS stunning. Other drivers of system choice include access to capital and slaughterhouse size with CAS systems requiring higher investment costs and being most cost effective at higher throughputs.
The costs of stunning systems were compared through a cost model using a number of simplifying assumptions where necessary. The following factors were included in the cost model:

• Installation cost depreciated over a 10 year period
• Annual maintenance cost
• Labor for reception and hanging, and other labor used in the stunning process
• Water for stunning and cleaning
• Electricity for stunning; and, gas for stunning;
The main data sources used were:
o Aggregated estimates of equipment manufacturers (45% weighting)
o Results of the slaughterhouse survey (45% weighting)
o Data from literature and other sources (10% weighting)

Waterbath stunning was found to be the cheapest stunning method, and CAS the most expensive. The highest cost difference between waterbath and CAS is around 1.5 cents per bird. Slaughterhouses with low throughputs (3,000-6,000 birds per hour) present the largest costs difference compared to slaughterhouses with high throughput (12,000 birds per hour with a difference of around 1 cent).

The impact on revenue of different stunning systems is highly dependent on the end market. Three potential mechanisms for higher revenue were identified: access to higher value markets; higher revenue for better quality; and, reduction in losses through trimming and the cost of trimming.

There has been very limited investigation into the impact of different stunning methods on quality. Evidence generally suggests that damage to breast and leg meat is higher with waterbath stunning. In contrast, damage to wing tips and skin is generally lower with waterbath stunning.

In the case of the fresh breast fillet market, it was estimated that losses through trimming and downgrading of the breast could be between €0.011 and €0.052 per bird.

The feasibility of phasing out multiple bird waterbath stunners 

It is considered that, under the baseline, there will be a slight reduction in the use of waterbath systems and increase in the use of CAS systems in the short-to-medium term (two to five years). It is estimated that the proportion of broilers stunned using waterbaths will fall from 79% at present to around 65%, while the proportion of broilers stunned with CAS systems will increase from 21% to around 35%. There will be significant differences between Member States, with no changes in stunning system in some Member States, and significant changes in others.

A complete mandatory ban on waterbaths was considered difficult. There would be positive aspects of a ban; from a political perspective, it would bring the industry into line with the 2004 recommendation of EFSA, and in social terms there would be a positive impact on animal welfare.

However, there were considered to be significant potential negative impacts and problems. Mandatory phasing out would have strong economic impacts on operators, and these would be accentuated for smaller slaughterhouses due to the technological issue of the current lack of commercial alternatives to waterbath stunning systems. It may also be difficult to make changes to a regulatory framework, which was only recently modified. Furthermore, there may be some negative social impacts if consolidation in the sector were to accelerate as a result of such a mandatory phasing out.


EU ban on conventional cages and its consequences on egg production

“The EU Legislators did not fully consider what impacts the banning of conventional cages would have on the future development of egg production and the resulting egg deficit.” With this quote of Professor Hans Windhorst underlined in an interview with Terry Evans (ThePoultrySite, 2009) what he had predicted during his presentation at the ISAH meeting in St. Malo, France in 2004.

Given the ongoing discussions on cage systems in othe parts of the word, Professor Windhorst expert opinion (although expressed in 2009) is still extremely interesting.

He pointed out that the switch from conventional cages to enriched cages, floor management or free-range systems would inevitably lead to higher production costs. Economists at Wageningen University in the Netherlands have shown that production costs in enriched cages would increase by some eight per cent over those of conventional cages. In the German small colony system, the extra costs would be of the order of 10 per cent, while switching to the barn system in the Netherlands would result in costs rising by 21 per cent.

“On the cost of switching away from conventional cages, an investment as high as €6.1 billion would be required. In Germany alone, some €612 million would be needed to meet the existing legal regulations by the end of 2009.”

He believes that it is not realistic to assume that this capital would be available under present financial and economic conditions, and he wonders how the EU would react when the member countries failed to fulfil the requirements of the Directive.

He observed that it was obvious that legislators in the EU as well as at the country level in Germany did not fully consider what impacts the banning of conventional cages would have on the future development of egg production and the resulting egg deficit.

Because German retailers would not stock eggs from the small colony system, large egg producers in that country realised that they would not be able to switch to floor management systems by the end of 2009.

This would result in “Financial losses for production companies, higher consumer prices and increasing imports of shell eggs and egg products,” Professor Windhorst concluded in his interview with ThePoultrySite in 2009.


Death caused by hyperthermia

Death caused by hyperthermia. This questionable method has been developed as a last resort option in case of a large-scale outbreak of High Pathogen Avian Influenza in the UK. Even in EU Regulation EU 1099/2009 there is room for countries to use this kind of methods, when compliance is likely to affect human health or significantly slow down the process of eradication of a disease. (EU 1099/2009; article 18, under 3).

Hyperthermia means that the cause of death is overheating the shed of the birds. The normal core body (CB) temperature of a bird must remain within a narrow range around a mean value of 41.4°C if its welfare is to be safeguarded.

If the core body temperature rises above 45°C most poultry will die quickly. To ensure VSD is effective the temperature in the house must rise to 40°C or greater and remain at that level. Maintaining a relative humidity of at least 75% will help speed the onset of death through hyperthermia.

This DEFRA document provides procedures and instructions on using Ventilation Shutdown (VSD) as an emergency method of killing of poultry for disease control purposes.


Historical overview of male day-old chicks as animal feed

In 2013, more than 150 million chicks per year, male day-old chicks are used as high quality and nutritious ingredient on the diet of hundreds of species of wild animals that are held in zoos and breading centers.

In the past 30 years, the use of day-old chicks have been changed, from animal waste to high-end food for birds of pray, cranes and other animals living in zoos and fauna parks around the world. This change has become possible first, after the introduction of techniques to kill the animals without unnecessary stress or pain.

With the use of technology, people daring to think out of the box, and the entrepreneurial courage of only a view people who dared to stick out their neck for animal welfare in a time that it was absolutely not common to do so, the majority of all male day-old chicks that are produced in Europe today are being treated with respect during slaughter, completely in line with the EU directives EU 1099/2009 and EU 1069/2009.


Impact assesment EU 1099/2009 January 19, 2012

Andrea Gavinelli, Directorate General for Health and Consumers, EU Commission: Summary.

Animal Welfare is being accorded an increasingly important role in today’s civil society. There is a growing expectation from consumers worldwide for animals used in food production to be well treated. Science has also more clearly defined the link of animal welfare with the increase of efficiency in production, animal health, securing sustainability, and ethical concerns.

The results of several social investigations and market analysis carried on in the European Union confirm that the farming of animals is no longer viewed by European consumers simply as a means of food production. Instead it is seen as fundamental to other key social goals such as food safety and quality, safeguarding environmental protection, sustainability, enhancing the quality of life in rural areas while ensuring that animals are properly treated.

While in the past animal welfare policy was often driven public concerns about specific topics the Commission adopted in 2006 a more comprehensive strategy for this policy area.

The first Community Action Plan on the Protection and Welfare of Animals 2006-2010 takes into account all the concerns as well as the globalisation of animal production. It defines the direction of the Community policies and the related activities for the coming years to continue to promote high animal welfare standards in the EU and internationally considering animal welfare as business opportunities while respecting the ethical and cultural dimension of the issue. A major effort is ongoing today to simplify the legislative framework and to reshape it in order to obtain in the future a more powerful tool to support European farm business.

The scientific study of animal welfare is a relatively young discipline and has developed over the last three decades and continues to expand to meet new challenges and new possibilities.

The scientific knowledge could play an important role facilitating the ethical and political decisions about animal care.

The vision is to integrate the farming of animals in good health and welfare conditions with the respect of several other issues such as the safety of the products and the respect for the environment: this integrated approach will bring a real benefit for the global society.

The overall aim of the European Commission’s initiative is to initiate a broad public debate on animal welfare which will allow shaping a coherent and widely accepted policy.


EFSA Scientific report on animal health and welfare aspects of Avian Influenza

In 2005 the Eurpean Commission asks the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to review 2000 and 2003 scientific pinions (SCAHAW, 2000 and 2003) on avian influenza in the light of more recent scientific data.

The EFSA scientific opinion should in particular describe:

1. an assessment of the risk of the introduction, and possible secondary spread, of LPAI and HPAI into the EU via different commodities, such as live poultry, ornamental birds, hatching eggs, table eggs, fresh poultry and other poultry products. In addition the scientific opinion should describe the risk factors for disease introduction into poultry holdings and surveillance tools and procedures available for early detection of AI in poultry holdings in relation to those risks;

2. the role of “backyard” poultry flocks in the epidemiology of avian influenza and available disease control tools for this specific population;

3. the risk of disease transmission between certain avian species in particular with respect to pigeons and anseriformes;

4. the risk of virus persistence in poultry manure and farm waste and a description of the possible inactivation and disinfection procedures that could be applied to these materials;

5. the animal welfare aspects of avian influenza including the implications of the different control strategies.


Euthanaseren van verzwakte varkens nog steeds een taboe

Al bijna 8 jaar wordt er in Nederland gediscussieerd over het vroegtijdig afscheid nemen van zieke varkens door middel van Euthanasie. In het artikel van Marleen van Sleuwen uit 2006, gepubliceerd in het vakblad De Boerderij adviseren deskundigen om ook op gewone bedrijven vaker kwakkeldieren te laten doden. Marleen werd indertijd beloond met journalistieke prijs voor de moet om dit onderwerp op de kaart te zetten.

Ondanks dat de EU tegenwoordig aan de lidstaten meer ruimte biedt om met het toestaan van alternatieven voor het gebruik van T61, toegediend door een dierenarts, blijkt dat in Nederland alleen het schietmasker gebruikt mag worden voor het verdoven van varkens.

De uiteindelijke dood van het dier moet vervolgens gebeuren door het toepassen van pithing. Een term die bewust niet in het Nederlands vertaald wordt. Volgens de definitie in art.2 van Verordening EU 1099/2009 betekent pithing: beschadiging van het weefsel van het centrale zenuwstelsel en het ruggenmerg met een lang en staafvormig, in de schedelholte ingebracht instrument. Het doden van biggen op het bedrijf zonder de inzet van een dierenarts (T61) is onmogelijk geworden omdat er voor biggen geen schietmasker in dit formaat bestaat.

De huidige Nederlandse wetgeving heeft de EU verordening beperkt tot het gebruik van T61 en verdoven met een schietmasker, gevolgd door het doden door middel van Pithing. Dit blijft zo totdat de nieuwe Wet houders van dieren wordt aangenomen in de eerste kamer. Persoonlijk vind ik dat van geen enkele boer kan en mag verwachten dat hij deze handeling uitvoert.

Ondanks de werkgroep die zich blijkens het artikel van Marleen van Sleuwen in 2006 over dit probleem boog en ondanks de Taskforce die Nederland in november 2012 naar dit probleem laat kijken lijkt dit dilemma nog steeds onoplosbaar. Totdat de wet Houders van Dieren wordt aangenomen bestaat er geren alternatief voor het inhuren van de dierenarts. Het euthanaseren van elk kwakkelvarken en elke zieke of verzwakte big wordt ongewild maar genadeloos gedegradeerd tot een kostenpost voor de boer.


Toepassen Verordening EU 1099/2009 binnen de varkensindustrie

Ondanks de nieuwe EU verordening worden pasgeboren biggen veelal handmatig – met inzet van fysieke kracht – gedood, bij gebrek aan een passende techniek die is toegestaan op grond van de Europese verordening. De verordening is weliswaar rechtstreeks van kracht in alle lidstaten, maar volgens artikel 26 van de nieuwe verordening kunnen lidstaten wel stringentere nationale voorschriften handhaven, onder andere m.b.t. het doden van dieren buiten een slachthuis.

Het Besluit doden van dieren beperkt op dit moment de mogelijkheden die de verordening biedt. Dit leidt tot een onaanvaardbare situaties voor Nederlandse varkensboeren. Dit kan niet de bedoeling geweest zijn van de Nederlandse wetgever en daarom is het zaak dat het Besluit houders van dieren zo snel mogelijk in werking treedt.
De verordening is weliswaar rechtstreeks van kracht in alle lidstaten, maar volgens artikel 26 van de nieuwe verordening kunnen lidstaten wel stringentere nationale voorschriften handhaven, onder andere m.b.t. het doden van dieren buiten een slachthuis.

Het Besluit doden van dieren beperkt op dit moment de mogelijkheden die de verordening biedt. Dit leidt tot een onaanvaardbare situaties voor Nederlandse varkensboeren. Dit kan niet de bedoeling geweest zijn van de Nederlandse wetgever en daarom is het zaak dat het Besluit houders van dieren zo snel mogelijk in werking treedt.


Applying Regulation EU 1099/2009 within the poultry industry

Several EU funded studies showed that the concern for animal welfare is one of the factors affecting the consumer’s choice of a product. There is a clear gap between consumer views and the day-to-day practice of killing animals on the farm in this regard. This can lead to public campaigning by welfare pressure groups against the poultry industry, resulting in public outrage with an unpredictable political, financial and economic outcome.

Not only poultry industry will be influenced negatively by consumer reactions in case the farmers would continue to neglect animal welfare in this sense. Therefore, it’s a clear task for animal welfare organizations, consumer organizations, branch organizations and retail organizations to actively support the farmers in their effort to applying Regulation EU 1099/2009.