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The pros and cons of Controlled Atmosphere Killing in the poultry industry

CAK is non-violent and results in no stress on the bird and no injury to the handler.
CAK is non-violent and results in no stress on the bird and no injury to the handler.
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There's a concentrated push recently by animal activists and PETA to convince the poultry industry to change over from electronic stunning to controlled atmosphere killing. Spin doctors from both sides of the issue have added their two cents, both claiming the advantages to their side. The truth of the matter is, unless you're a chicken whose days are numbered, you won't ever know for sure if being stunned and having your throat slit is better than being atmospherically smothered. But let's look at the facts of these two choices of death for birds raised for food.

Electronic Stunning

Step 1 : The bird is yanked from its crate by its feet by a poultry worker who is (after a length of time) indifferent to any stress, pain, or injury caused to the bird.

Step 2: The bird is shackled by its feet upside down on an assembly line. Stress and injury are ignored.

Step 3: The bird is dunked into a tank of electrified water meant to stun it. The purpose is to render it senseless to pain, causing paralysis.

Step 4: If the stunning works properly (and there is a percentage of the time it does not), the bird is conveyed down the line where a blade will sever the artery in its neck and it will then bleed out.

Step 5: The dying bird (sometimes the bird manages to avoid the blade by twitching) is dunked into boiling water to de-feather it. If the bird avoided the blade, it is dunked alive into the boiling water where it will surely die.

Controlled Atmospheric Killing

There are two ways in which this is done in the few plants in Europe that actually use this method.

Step 1: While still in their crates, the chickens are placed in a room where the atmosphere (the air in the room) is modified to reduce the oxygen to 2%. The birds suffocate within minutes.

Alternate Step 1: Some plants lead the birds (sans crates) into a room to feed, where they readily follow, under no stress, and the room is closed off, oxygen reduced until the birds take their last breath.

The pros of Electronic Stunning: The only pro I can list here is that this method is already in place and left as is, would not change the monetary bottom line for the plant.

The pros of CAK: CAK takes away the stress endured by the birds from being handled and hung upside down. It also eliminates (notice I said "eliminates" and not "reduces") injury to the birds, and also to the employees who must handle these birds to take them to the next step of bleeding out and de-feathering. Without feeling stress, the birds won't defecate on themselves so the meat is cleaner. Without hearing birds in distress, the employees are also less stressed. CAK is a death without violence.

The cons of Electronic Stunning: The stress caused by stunning the birds makes them act out which results in the birds often suffering broken legs, defecating on itself caused by its fear, and also injury to the bird handler. The bird suffers, albeit shortly, unnecessarily. The squawking of the distressed birds has a relative effect of causing stress to the employees handling them. It takes five steps to complete the process of electronic stunning versus the three steps it would take to employ CAK.

The cons of CAK:
Proponents of keeping the old system of electronic stunning in place argue that there is no further humane advantage to switching over to CAK. Their view is that death is death and no matter what, it's inhumane. Well, I can't disagree, but a violent versus a non-violent death is a no-brainer!

In addition, there is a cost absorbed by the slaughterhouses that would be passed onto consumers if they change over to CAK. The question is, are consumers willing to pay a slightly higher price for their chicken for the peace of mind of knowing that the bird didn't die in stress and violence? I'd pay it.

PETA announced that "chicken suppliers Bell & Evans in Pennsylvania and Mary's Chickens in California are switching from the standard method of chicken slaughter described above (electric immobilization) to controlled atmosphere killing (CAK), becoming the first U.S. chicken suppliers to do so. This is a true milestone in the fight to help animals who are raised for food."

Advocates are now actively pushing to get the nations largest chain restaurant, McDonald's, to change from its current chicken suppliers to ones who utilize only Controlled Atmosphere Killing. This is a moment in which McDonald's can choose to be a leader in the humane treatment of animals; a time where they can put up or shut up!

If you believe that CAK is a much more humane way to put birds down that are raised for food, and you think McDonald's should hop on the humane-train, visit this site and sign the petition urging the fast food giant to make the change.


Newly Published! HARVEST, an original short story by Michele Gwynn is now available for download in PDF on Harvest tells the fictional tale of what happens when human greed and gluttony override compassion and humane treatment of cattle in feedlots. When Dave Forrester wakes to discover that everyone he knows in Farley, Oklahoma has disappeared, it's up to him to discover why, and figure out how to save the few who survive ... the harvest.

All articles by Michele Gwynn are under copyright and cannot be re-posted whole without written consent by the author. Partial re-posting with a link back to the original article is permitted. For consent, questions, or comments, email

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More from Michele Gwynn: Ms. Gwynn is also the San Antonio Sex & Relationships Examiner. Her humor in explaining "the unexplainable" goes hand in hand with her candor. She has even interviewed celebrities for her column, and a former UN Ambassador for a local San Antonio newspaper.

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  • animalrighttoLIFE 4 years ago

    Animals raised for food...humans are such heartless, pathetic creatures. May justice be served when it animal eaters turn to die!

  • realself 3 years ago

    death by asphyxiation is not "no stress"

  • Anonymous 3 years ago

    Death is death no matter what, but if you could help ALLEVIATE THEIR SUFFERING wouldn't you do something? Admittedly, suffocating is NOT NO Stress, but it is far better than what they have to go through at this juncture. If you could stop one animal from the torture and suffering of fastened upside down, dunked HEAD FIRST in ELECTRIFIED water (for god sake) and then throat slit, wouldn't you choose for it to just pass out from lack of oxygen? Killing anything is just so wrong. We are a nation of animal killers, heartless and greedy people who could care less about animals. I am ashamed to be an American. THE SHAME OF A NATION.

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