Today we paid an announced visit to Van der Linden poultry slaughterhouse. Van der Linden took time out of their busy schedule to show us the process from beginning to end, and to answer all our questions.
In the lairage, big fans with water-misters had been fitted on the ceiling. There were also fans on the floor. The water-misters help cool the air. However, in some areas the humidity was rather high, which caused the broilers to experience (mild) heat stress. We recommended Van der Linden to place more ventilators to decrease the humidity, and help birds cope with the heat.
Moving the transport containers from truck to stunning area went very quietly. The noise level was low, and movements were not abrupt and without delay. Van der Linden also has its own transporters and poultry farmers, which means better organisation and planning, and as a result transportation and waiting times are relatively short.
The chickens were stunned using a 2-phase gas stunning system manufactured by Marel. During the stunning process we did see the birds were gasping for air, but we did not see serious wing flapping or ‘escape’ behavior, making the stunning phase acceptable in terms of welfare. The stunning system however does have a big disadvantage; birds have to be tilted out of the containers, onto a conveyor belt, alive (prior to stunning). Measures were taken to make this ‘live tilting’ a little less stressful (sliding plates, fewer chickens per drawer and continuous checks for trapped birds). Nevertheless, this remains a very critical point, as the tilting is still quite abrupt and causes birds to panic. Van der Linden is therefore considering switching to a new gas stunning system whereby the chickens can stay in the containers during the whole process (eliminating live tilting). Newer gas-stunning systems also have the advantage of starting with a lower CO2 concentration and then raising it more slowly, which alleviates some of the stress birds experience. We therefore strongly encourage Van der Linden to do so and gave them recommendations on the different gas-stunning systems that are available on the market right now.
Finally, we have advised Van der Linden to purchase a small stunner so individual chickens can be stunned quickly to prevent unnecessary suffering For example, when a chicken is injured or regains consciousness after gas-stunning (this sometimes happens). Stunning can be done with electricity or mechanically (captive bolt gun manufactured by the company Bock). Currently the method widely used in the poultry industry is cervical dislocation (breaking of the neck), but this is extremely painful for the chicken for at least 20-25 seconds. Birds do not lose consciousness immediately and without pain as is often assumed. It is therefore unacceptable in our opinion.
The way we were received by Van der Linden today is praiseworthy. Van der Linden showed us everything (including the critical moments in the process) and we were allowed to take images. We really appreciate their openness and transparency. They seem serious about animal welfare and our advice, and we are confident that they will get to work on this.