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The Slaughter Process: Stunning

Posted January 28, 2018

WARNING: This article is an uncensored


explanation of how animals are killed
prior to slaughter. Some descriptions,
videos, and images may be upsetting to
certain readers.

I dare say that over 99.9% of all


animals that are slaughtered in the
developed world do not suffer. At all.

Why Do We Stun?
Before explaining how it is, I first want to reinforce how important it is to processing plant
workers that animals do not feel pain. Up to this point in this Slaughter Process Series, I’ve explained
how humanely raising animals on the farm maximizes meat quantity and quality, and how proper
handling once they arrive at the plant avoids injuries that can cause bruising. However, putting animals
down is arguably the most important time to make sure that animals experience zero stress. Why?

If an animal perceives a threat to its well-being, its heart rate will speed up and adrenaline, a
hormone and neurotransmitter that provokes the natural “fight or flight” response, will be released. The
adrenaline chemical is extremely damaging to the meat, and it measurably diminishes carcass quality.
Here is some science:

 “Short-term acute stress, such as excitement or fighting immediately prior to slaughter,


produced lactic acid from the breakdown of glycogen. This results in meat which has a lower pH,
lighter color, reduced water binding capacity, and is possibly tougher. Psychological stressors,
such as excitement and fighting, will often have a more detrimental effect on meat quality than
physical stressors, such as fasting or cold weather.”

Grandin, Temple. “The Effect of Stress on Livestock and Meat Quality Prior to and During Slaughter
.” Animal Studies Repository, Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy, 1980, 12 Aug. 2017

 “It was therefore concluded that although mutton quality and creatine kinase were not related,
pre-slaughter stress, season and breed affected the activity of creatine kinase and mutton [or
sheep meat] quality.”

Chulayo, A. Y., and V. Muchenje. “The Effects of Pre-Slaughter Stress and Season on the Activity of
Plasma Creatine Kinase and Mutton Quality from Different Sheep Breeds Slaughtered at a Smallholder
Abattoir.” Asian-Australasian Journal of Animal Sciences, Asian-Australasian Association of Animal
Production Societies (AAAP) and Korean Society of Animal Science and Technology (KSAST), Dec. 2013.
12 Aug. 2017.
 "Stress affects meat quality and an increase in incidence of pale, soft and exudative (PSE) and
dark, firm and dry (DFD) meats, and reduced meat quality was found when stressful handling
systems were used.”

Martínez-Miró, Silvia. “Causes, Consequences and Biomarkers of Stress in Swine: an Update.” BMC
Veterinary Research, BioMed Central, 19 Aug. 2016, 12 Aug. 2017.

All of these studies found that


animals who experienced stress of any
kind before slaughter, including climatic
stressors, negative handling practices, or
fighting directly reduced meat quality. In
America, every cut of meat must be
evaluated by a trained employee to
grade it according to the USDA scale: (in
order from best to lowest quality) prime,
choice, and select. The lower the
“shield” (which is the shape of the label
on the meat packaging), the cheaper it
costs. If it does not qualify for one of
these shields, it can’t be labeled and has
to be used for pet food or a byproduct
that brings drastically less money.

As I explained in the introduction to this series, farms and slaughterhouses are not the same
thing. If independent, the farmer gets to choose the processing plant his animals use. If contracted with
a corporation, the corporation will usually choose. Either way, the slaughterhouse that is used will be
selected based on proximity and how much money the producer makes. If a plant routinely causes harm
to animals, not only will it be penalized in inspections, but farmers will cease to bring their animals
because they won’t be getting the maximum profit. So how do slaughterhouse workers insure that
animals do not suffer?

Every animal must be rendered unconscious (stunned) before any harm comes to them. The act
of stunning is not actually what kills them, it just makes them insensible so they do not feel the pain of
the actual death. Stunning has been developed and innovated over the past half-century, allowing it to
become impeccable. To pass the audit that Temple Grandin helped develop, 100% of animals must be
effectively stunned. There are many ways that an animal can be stunned, and what works best for one
species might actually be cruel for another. Here are the most common methods of achieving this:

Captive Bolt Gun


This is the most common method for cattle, but it’s also a good choice for pigs, sheep, goats,
horses, and camels. Cattle are driven in a single file line into a stunning box. Temple Grandin
recommends putting a light in this box to make animals feel comfortable coming near; animals are
naturally drawn from dark to light areas. Basically, a captive bolt gun fires a blank cartridge into the
animal’s skull to destroy the brain. This does not stop the heart from beating, so the animal is technically
still alive.

The gun operator must be trained to appropriately use the equipment so as they successfully stun
the animal but don’t cause harm to any other pieces that have value as byproducts. The gun must be
positioned in a specific place on the animal’s head (stunners use a different place depending on the
species) that will allow the cartridge to bypass the skull.

Electric Stunning
This method involves an electrical shock putting the animal’s brain into an epileptic state. It is
considered effective to use on swine, sheep, goats, and ostriches, but is probably most common in
poultry. Electric prods can be applied to the animal’s head, jaw, or neck. Unlike the captive bolt gun,
electrical shock does not destroy the animal’s brain, and the animal will eventually regain consciousness,
so it’s important to speedily kill the animal so this doesn’t happen. For both this and the captive bolt
gun, making sure that stunning equipment is clean and fully operational is very important. Stunners
should be checked daily.

CO2 Gassing
Another way animals can be stunned is by enclosing them in a chamber that is filled up with high
concentrations of carbon dioxide. Gassing is most common in swine. This is the most costly approach,
but it allows large numbers of head to be stunned at one time, making it feasible for large plants. Many
researchers believe this is the least humane method because they are concerned the animals feel pain
associated with suffocation. Argon gas is currently being researched and may improve welfare in the
future if allowed to be put into practice.

In Conclusion
Animal welfare activists refuse to believe that these methods are effective at rendering animals
insensible because of viral videos showing what appear to be animals struggling to get free or crying out
in pain after they have been stunned. Rigorous audits and thorough investigating have proven that
alertness after stunning is extremely rare, but, for the last post in this Slaughter Process series, I will be
showing some of these videos and explaining why they are either taken out of context, or are not the
reality of modern day processing.
After an animal is stunned, their throat is slit, which is the way that the animal actually dies. As
you can see on a few of the videos, the animals are usually hung upside down to expedite blood loss.
Sometimes, electrical currents are pulsed through the corpses to further speed up blood loss (this is
often filmed by undercover activists who think the bodies jolting from the electric current
are actuallylive animals struggling to get free—of course, the people they show them to are equally
ignorant).