Animal welfare research leads to European law reform

Ground-breaking research aimed at improving bird welfare during poultry production has directly led to a change in EU law.

The new regulation, which was brought into force on Friday 18 May, makes it legal in the European Union to use Low Atmospheric Pressure Stunning (LAPS) - proven to be a humane method for the pre-slaughter stunning of broiler chickens.

The research, which was led by the University of Glasgow in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh, represents the most extensive welfare assessment of a stunning system for poultry.

LAPS is a novel approach which irreversibly stuns animals by gradually reducing the atmospheric pressure and hence the amount of oxygen available.

The researchers developed an innovative welfare assessment based on detailed examination of bird behaviour and physiology during LAPS, and were able to demonstrate that LAPS is a welfare friendly method. This is the first new stunning method to be added to EU Regulations and provides a high welfare alternative to current commercial approaches.

Dr Dorothy McKeegan, from the University of Glasgow, said: “Our work on LAPS provided an extensive welfare assessment of this novel method, which was utilised to underpin policy change at EU level. The approval of LAPS in Europe is a major development in broiler chicken welfare which paves the way for global uptake of this humane method of stunning."

Dr Jessica Martin, from the University of Edinburgh, said: “The stunning and slaughter of animals is a key stage in livestock production and the methods we use should always represent the highest welfare standards available. Our extensive welfare assessment of LAPS and the resulting change in legislation allowing its use in broiler chickens in the EU, demonstrates high impact science and its application to improve animal welfare.”

LAPS has the potential to improve welfare at killing in other species, and this is being investigated in the researchers’ current work.

The research was carried out in collaboration with colleagues at Mississippi State University, University of Arkansas, University of Florida and Wageningen University and Research.

Enquiries: ali.howard [at] (p) uk or elizabeth.mcmeekin [at] (p) uk / 0141 330 6557 or 0141 330 4831