Humane euthanizing of sick animals
The most humane method to euthanize animals that are in severe pain or suffer severely seems to be the use of nitrogen gas foam. By this method the animals will be unconscious within a short time through an abundance of nitrogen. The animals die in a short time, without regaining consciousness. This novel method will be extensively tested at the Swine Research Centre of Wageningen University, the Netherlands.
Pigs or poultry (and other animals) that are in severe pain or that suffer severely have to be euthanized, if there is no practical and economical way to alleviate this pain or suffering. This is clearly defined in Council Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009, which come into force from the 1 of January 2013. This EU-regulation states that the euthanasia of the animal has to be as quickly as possible, in order not to prolong the period of suffering. The animal should be spared of avoidable pain, distress or suffering by the euthanasia. Therefore stunning of the animal prior to killing is necessary, except when the stunning and killing is done at the same time. At all times it is necessary that the animal stay unconscious until death enters.
With a new method, nitrogen gas foam all the demands of the Council Regulation are fulfilled. The method of nitrogen foam has been developed for young piglets and poultry, a group of animals for which the acceptable methods prescribed in the Council Regulation are not suitable.
The method of nitrogen foam uses a barrel, filled up with a layer of high expansion foam (big bubbles) completely filled with pure nitrogen. The animal will be placed into the foam and covered with a layer of foam of at least 60 centimetres. The animal will breathe 98 per cent nitrogen. Blood oxygen diminishes very quickly and the animal will very soon become unconscious. Because of the extreme oxygen deficiency (anoxia) the animal dies within one and a half to two minutes. The animal will not regain consciousness and won’t notice that it dies.
The animal will be unaware that it breathes in pure nitrogen. It will not be harmful or painful for the animal because the normal air an animal breathes consists already of 80 per cent nitrogen. Inhalation of nitrogen is therefore not stressful, whereas for example with high concentrations of carbon dioxide the animal will try not to breathe.
No physical load
The method of nitrogen foam is also not physically demanding on the farmer and his employees. The animal almost instantly loses consiousness after being dipped through the foam. Fixation of the animal to avoid them to hurt themselves during stunning is not needed, as necessary in most other methods. Because of the thick nitrogen foam layer and the amount of 98 per cent nitrogen it is certain that the animal will die. The chance that the method fails and the animal regain consciousness and doesn’t die, is almost zero.
The advantage of the use of high expansion foam is that the nitrogen gas is captured in the bubbles. Nitrogen is lighter than the surrounding air and would normally mix quickly with the air. To be sure that the nitrogen doesn’t escape during the procedure there will be always a layer of 60 centimetres of foam above the animal.
The thick layer of foam avoids that the nitrogen escapes. The method therefore is safe to use for the operator. After a longer period the foam will disappear and the nitrogen will mix with the surrounding air, without any risks.
Working with nitrogen gas foam is also hygienic. The animals will stay in the barrel were they are euthanized. No body fluids will be released.
Extensive research with the method of nitrogen foam will start on the 1st of January 2013 at the Swine Research Centre of Wageningen University, the Netherlands. This research has to prove that the animals are unconscious in a short time and die because of the lack of oxygen. And the animals should not suffer from stress or pain from the method. An exploratory survey with poultry already showed that this is achievable.
Next to the effects on the animals the reliability of the equipment will be tested, and a standard operating procedure will be developed. Possible risks for het operators or the environment will be examined. In half a year the equipment will be tested, ready to use and will become available commercially.
For the operators, training will be an integral part of this new method. During a theoretical online training, the operator will learn to recognize whether animals are suffering. He will also be able to avoid stress for the animals and will know how to perform the process of euthanasia. The second part of the training is a practical exercise under the supervision of a certified veterinarian, concluded with an assessment and certification.
More background information about nitrogen foam, euthanasia en e.g. the EU Council Regulation can be found at www.n2gf.com