Operational guideline: Humane slaughter guidelines for avian food animals including ratites

Although the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR) came into force on January 15, 2019, other requirements will be introduced in 2020 and 2021 based on food commodity, type of activity and business size. For more information, refer to the SFCR timelines.

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1.0 Purpose

The purpose of this document is to provide guidance to Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) Inspection Staff on humane slaughter of avian food animals including ratites.

This document is intended to be used in conjunction with other guidance documents as referenced in section 3.0 since it is limited to information not included in these documents.

The guidance outlined below should be used when verifying compliance with regulatory requirements related to humane slaughter activities of avian food animals including ratites.

2.0 Authorities

The inspection powers, control actions and enforcement actions authorized by the above legislation are identified and explained in the Food regulatory response guidelines.

3.0 Reference documents

4.0 Definitions

Unless specified below, definitions are located in either the:

Additional technical definitions are located in the Mechanical, electrical, gas stunning, slaughter methods and monitoring signs of unconsciousness or consciousness.

5.0 Acronyms

Acronyms are spelled out the first time they are used in this document and are consolidated in the food business line acronyms list (under development).

6.0 Operational guideline

The legal framework for humane stunning and slaughter of food animals is sections 141, 142, 143(1) and 143(2) of the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR). Other applicable SFCR regulatory provisions include sections 128, 135(1) and 135(2), which protect all live animals at the establishment from the time of arrival until death.

The information presented in this document is intended to help CFIA staff undertake their inspections and to be used in conjunction with the following documents:

CFIA must understand Industry requirements to be able to verify compliance to SFCR. Additionally, this document provides guidance intended specifically for inspectors to enable them to conduct compliance verification activities and to take enforcement action.

6.1 Compliance verification

  • Use Compliance Verification System (CVS) Task 5.1.03 – Humane Stunning and Bleeding Activities – to verify that regulatory requirements for humane slaughter are met. Other CVS tasks applicable to stunning and bleeding include:
    • task 5.1.08 – Stunning and Bleeding Areas/Facilities/Equipment
    • task 5.1.12 – Animal Welfare Control Program
  • Ratites are normally handled and slaughtered in a manner similar to mammalian species. Use CVS Task 5.1.03 to verify regulatory requirements for humane slaughter and Task 5.1.06 – Design of Stunning and Bleeding Areas/Facilities/Equipment – instead of Task 5.1.08.

6.2 General principles of compliance action applicable to humane slaughter

Please refer to the Food regulatory response guidelines as each situation is unique and different compliance and/or enforcement actions could be taken depending on the context. In the following sub-sections, general examples are given but judgment needs to be applied as well as consultation with the appropriate resources in your Area.

6.2.1 Compliance actions for issues which directly contravene SFCR provisions

  • Issues which directly contravene SFCR provisions are those where the observed deficiency represents non-compliance with a regulatory requirement.
  • Refer to section and section for guidance on zero-tolerance issues and deliberate acts of cruelty.
  • If the operator identifies the issue independently (without being notified by CFIA) and takes immediate and effective corrective action, the process is in control. CFIA takes no action and an Inspector's Report-Corrective Action Request (IR-CAR) is not issued.
    • example: you observe the back-up employee suddenly becoming very busy, decapitating one bird after another because the automatic neck cut is inadequate. After a few seconds, the back-up employee runs to the line stop button and stops the line. The floor supervisor arrives, discusses with the back-up employee, then adjusts the faulty bleeding equipment and closely observes after restarting the line. The problem is resolved. No IR-CAR is issued
  • If CFIA identifies the issue and the operator takes immediate and effective corrective action upon being made aware of the issue, the process is still not in control because the issue failed to be identified by the operator. CFIA had to take action in this case and alert the operator so that immediate corrective action would be taken. An IR-CAR is issued.
    • example: the employee does not notice a turkey returning to sensibility until CFIA draws his attention to it. The employee then immediately decapitates it
  • If CFIA identifies the issue but the operator either fails to respond, or responds with incorrect action, or the corrective action is not effective, the process is not in control because of deficiencies in development or implementation of the Animal Welfare Preventive Control Plan (AWPCP). CFIA must take control at this point. An IR-CAR is issued.
    • example: the employee does not notice a goose returning to sensibility until CFIA draws his attention to it. The employee then either does nothing at all, or cuts the vessels on only one side of the neck (inefficient measure), or decapitates it but only after a few sawing actions because of a dull knife
  • If the operator identifies the issue but fails to respond or responds incorrectly or ineffectively, the process is not in control. CFIA must take control. An IR-CAR is issued.
    • example: the employee conducts a regular stunning check and documents a poor stunning rate which is beyond the targets outlined in the Objective performance criteria for humane slaughter for broilers , but he fails to stop the line, makes no adjustment to the water-bath stunner, and does not notify the foreman
  • If the operator identifies the issue and takes immediate and effective corrective action each time, but non-compliances to the same section of the SFCR reoccur frequently, this represents a pattern of failure and the process is not in control. This could happen whether or not preventive measures were implemented, in which case they are ineffective. An IR-CAR is issued.
    • the definition of a pattern of failure is subjective. It requires judgment and knowledge of the operator's history of repeat failures Compliance actions for zero tolerance issues
  • Zero-tolerance issues are those where a single occurrence is unacceptable because of the severe animal welfare impact. Zero-tolerance events during avian food animal slaughter are birds returning to sensibility on the bleed line; sensible birds or uncut birds entering the scalder; and deliberate acts of cruelty. Refer to section for deliberate acts of cruelty.
  • The operator has full responsibility for monitoring that they remain in compliance with SFCR at all times.
  • The operator's AWPCP must include measures to identify problems and take effective corrective action and preventive measures to prevent reoccurrence.
  • Compliance action depends on the operator's response.
    • An IR-CAR is not issued if the operator identifies the issue independently (without being notified by CFIA) and takes immediate and effective corrective action
      • example: the employee sees a broiler returning to sensibility before or at the same time as CFIA and immediately decapitates it
    • An IR-CAR will be issued either when CFIA identifies the issue and has to request corrective action, or when the operator identifies the issue but either fails to respond; or responds with incorrect action; or the corrective action is not effective.
      • example: you discover the stunner or automatic knife has been malfunctioning for the past 5 minutes and nobody noticed the problem. An IR-CAR is issued
      • example: when you arrive in the stunning area, the floor supervisor tells you stunning is not going very well. He calls another employee to assist with back-up decapitation and restarts the line without making any stunner adjustments. The problem persists. An IR-CAR is issued because the corrective action is not effective
  • An IR-CAR will be issued if a zero tolerance issue is no longer a rare occurrence, even if the operator identifies the issue and responds appropriately.
    • example: birds are returning to sensibility on the bleed line now and then throughout the day, every day. They are immediately decapitated, and the operator has adjusted stunner settings and has increased monitoring, but the issue persists
  • Review the AWPCP to see what it says about zero-tolerance issues, including follow-up procedures to determine the reason for the non-compliant event and effective measures to prevent reoccurrence.
  • Do not confuse zero tolerance issues with self-audit criteria that result in automatic self-audit failure. An automatic self-audit failure because of a failed zero-tolerance criterion does not mean an automatic IR-CAR unless it is a deliberate act of cruelty. IR-CAR issuance depends on who identified the issue and the operator's response to it. Compliance actions for deliberate acts of cruelty
  • Do not confuse zero tolerance issues (e.g. return to sensibility) with deliberate acts of cruelty.
  • Deliberate acts of cruelty are those where a single occurrence is unacceptable because of their willful nature and the severe impact on animal welfare.
  • Use judgment to decide whether the action was unintentional or truly deliberate with the clear intention of harming animals.
    • example: the water-bath stunning voltage is low, birds are only immobilized and return to consciousness very fast. Blinking, swallowing and beak movements are observed. Employees do not take any corrective actions and tease the conscious birds instead. The birds react with wing-flapping. The intent of the employees is clear in this case. There is a huge difference between not taking a corrective action on sensible birds because of a lack of training for instance as opposed to knowing that stunning is ineffective and deliberately allowing birds to completely recover on the line without taking any corrective action as it is demonstrated in this case.
  • Deliberate acts of cruelty during slaughter of avian food animal could include :
    • hitting or beating of birds
    • throwing birds
    • deliberately shackling birds by only one leg
    • deliberately stunning birds and allowing them to recover
    • continuing to use obviously malfunctioning stunning or automatic neck cutting equipment
    • putting live, uncut birds in the scald tank
    • failing to take action if birds are sensible on the line
  • Compliance and/or enforcement actions (IR-CAR and/or Inspector Non Compliance Report-INCR) will automatically be taken by CFIA even if the operator has responded to it because of the intention to harm an animal and the severe impact on animal welfare.
    • example: the shackling employee notices that a broiler he is about to hang is severely emaciated and weak. He throws the live bird several meters through the air toward the Dead-on-Arrival (DOA) bin, and it falls into the bin. Before you can react, the foreman yells at the employee, runs over to retrieve the live bird from the dead bin and immediately euthanizes it by cervical dislocation before proceeding to discuss this with the employee. You then hear that this employee has been terminated
    • example: the operator installed new stunning equipment over the weekend and wishes to test it before start-up of operations. On Sunday evening, the operator runs a lot of 500 broilers through the stunner but not through the neck cutter or scalder. He removes each bird from the line after the stunning test to see if they were rendered unconscious, and to evaluate how long it takes for them to regain consciousness. The 480 birds which recovered from the test stun are returned to their crates for normal slaughter on Monday. You learn about this on Tuesday when an employee confides what happened
  • Refer to section 6.10.1 for guidance on compliance actions for uncut birds.

6.2.2 Compliance actions for issues which do not directly contravene SFCR provisions

  • CFIA's role is to verify compliance to regulations. When the observation is not a regulatory requirement, and does not result in animal suffering (therefore no violation of SFCR 128 or 135), CFIA conducts the corresponding CVS task and rates the task accordingly.
    • example: There is a line stoppage and employees think it could be long and do not seem to know the maximum time limits for leaving live birds shackled during line stoppages or breakdowns as well as corrective actions and preventive measures. Fortunately the line restart a few seconds later without causing avoidable suffering to live birds already shackled
      • In this case, CFIA will verify what the AWPCP says about managing shackled birds and conduct CVS Task 5.1.02
  • Note that, in general, slaughter activities (shackling, stunning and bleeding) all have an immediate impact on compliance with the concerned SFCR

6.3 Guidelines for verifying compliance to humane slaughter regulatory requirements

  • Observe shackling, stunning and bleeding activity for a sufficient amount of time to be able to conclude that the process is under control.
  • A consistent, systematic approach is recommended in order to assess all activities in the same manner and for the same minimum amount of time each time the verification activity is conducted.
  • An efficient approach to verify handling immediately prior to slaughter, stunning effectiveness, bleeding effectiveness and bleed rail insensibility is to count a representative amount of animals at each step or over a sufficient amount of time so that effectiveness can be calculated.
    • example: count 50 heavy turkeys being stunned and note how many are poorly stunned; multiply the number of poorly stunned birds by 2 to obtain a percentage and to determine if stunning effectiveness is within expected standards of acceptable performance
    • example: if broiler slaughter line speed is 60 carcasses per minute, observing for 5 minutes will be the equivalent of counting 300 birds for each criterion assessed; divide the number of birds not meeting the desired outcome (e.g. poorly stunned or non-stunned; poorly bled or uncut after passing through the automatic neck cutter) by 3 to obtain a percentage and compare with expected standards of performance
  • In the above examples, knowledge of actual stunning and bleeding performance during the verification (refer to the Objective performance criteria for humane slaughter) is useful information because it allows CFIA to observe whether industry is taking appropriate corrective action when equipment is functioning below established performance standards.
  • Observe if employees are taking effective control action for missed stuns (refer to section 6.7), if birds returning to sensibility on the bleed line, or if there are missed/ineffectively bled or uncut birds.
  • Use visual observation to monitor for signs of sensibility, insensibility, or return to sensibility. Avoid touching the animal to test eye reflexes, pain withdrawal reflexes or muscle tone unless you have some doubt about what you are observing. Refer to section 6.6 for more details.
  • Refer to section 6.5.2 below for guidance on verifying pre-stun shock occurrence.

6.4 Shackling

  • Shackling is considered a distressing and painful procedure:
    • the acts of handling, inverting (a physiologically abnormal posture for birds) and shackling are stressful
    • birds have nociceptors (pain sensors) in the skin and periosteum (tissue surrounding bone) of their shanks
    • forceful shackling or tight-fitting shackles put more pressure on these pain sensors.
    • shackles that are too large will result in poor electrical contact and poor stunning, while shackles that are too small will induce flapping because of the pain, and flapping will interfere with stunning
    • sudden jerky movements, sharp curves, dips and unevenness of the shackling line cause more discomfort and possibly pain due to more pressure placed on the shanks.
    • heavier birds experience more pain because the heavier body weight puts more pressure on the shanks
    • birds with leg injuries or deformities experience more pain during shackling because of the weight of the body exerting pressure on the affected limb
    • birds do not have a diaphragm. When they hang upside down, the weight of the abdominal viscera puts pressure on the heart and birds can die. Probability of death increases with time spent shackled
  • Verify what the AWPCP says about time frames for shackling prior to stunning; maximum time limits for leaving birds shackled during line stoppages or breakdowns; deviation procedures, corrective actions and preventive measures.
  • Length of time birds remain shackled during breakdowns and line stoppages must be minimized. The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), section 7.5.7 (3) b), recommends not exceeding one minute for birds while the Council Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing, Annex II, (5.2), recommends not exceeding one minute for birds with the exception of ducks, geese and turkeys where the recommendation is maximum 2 minutes. There is no difference between time spent in shackles prior to slaughter and time spent in shackles during a line stoppage. An operator cannot define a prolonged breakdown as one exceeding the average breakdown time and use that as a guide to determine how long birds can stay shackled.
  • Initiate control action if there is evidence that shackling times or shackling factors are causing avoidable suffering.

6.5 Stunning

  • Do not assume a stunning method will be 100% irreversible even with parameters that have been demonstrated to cause cardiac arrest. There is always the potential for some animals to be inadequately or lightly stunned in any given lot, so monitoring is required even when stun to kill parameters are used.
  • Electricity will follow the path of least resistance. If stunning current is too weak, the current will not penetrate the skull to then travel through the body, exiting through the feet. Instead, it will travel over the surface of the body, resulting in electro-immobilization.

6.5.1 Testing stunning equipment

  • Verify that live birds are never used to test equipment. If the equipment is not immediately and fully capable of producing an effective stun, avoidable suffering will result in non-compliance with SFCR 128 and 135(1)(b).
  • The best way to test stunning effectiveness is through the use of an electroencephalogram (EEG). This method is not practical in a commercial slaughter plant.

There are exceptional circumstances where the use of an equipment to test electrical parameters has already been done but there is still an absolute need to confirm that the stunning is effective and lasting long enough (> 30 seconds) to ensure it induces unconsciousness and is not in fact causing electro-immobilization. In these cases, it is permissible to allow a very small number of stunned birds to bypass the cutting equipment in order to measure the time it takes for return to sensibility after stunner exit if it is under 30 seconds. However, the birds must remain shackled at all times (they are not to be removed from the line) and they must be immediately killed by rapid decapitation as soon as the very first signs of return to sensibility appear. A bird must not be allowed to fully regain sensibility. Each bird must be observed closely from the point of stunner exit until decapitation has been completed. A situation leading to this demonstration could include a case where the slaughter is performed by water-bath stunning and rapid continuous decapitation with CFIA or the licence holder still having concerns about the stunning efficiency and length while other methods have already been used to evaluate it.

6.5.2 Pre-stun shocks

  • Assess if pre-stun shocks are occurring by observing birds while they approach and enter the stunner and come into contact with the brine solution and/or metal grid.
  • Birds should not touch each other and should not show avoidance behaviours.
  • Pre-stun shock is more likely to occur in birds with longer wing spans, where the wings may hang lower than the head (turkeys, waterfowl).
  • Signs indicative of pre-stun shocks include sudden vigorous wing flapping, sudden high-pitch vocalizations, or avoidance behaviour (lifting the head and sometimes the body).
  • More than one contraction upon coming into contact with water may indicate interrupted application of current flow.
  • Verify if pre-stun shock monitoring procedures, corrective actions and preventive measures are part of the AWPCP.
    • Verify if pre-stun shock incidents, along with root cause analysis, corrective actions and preventive measures, are documented
  • Inspectors can use the following checklist to evaluate equipment and stunning, as factors determining pre-stun shock potential:
    • Is the stunner height adjusted such that the excess brine solution runs out the bird exit end of the stunner or does the electrified brine solution flow out the bird entry end of the stunner?
    • Does the brine run down the entry ramp causing pre-stun shocks?
    • Is the entry ramp electrically isolated from the water-bath stunner, such that electrical current cannot flow from the stunner to the entry ramp to give pre-stun shocks?
    • Is the entry ramp inclined such that the birds are drawn up the entry ramp by the shackle line, causing the head and body of the bird to swing gently into the water-bath and be quickly submerged in the electrified brine solution up to the base of the wings in one smooth movement for immediate stunning?
    • Do the birds try to curl up to avoid the pre-stun shocks on the entry ramp?
    • Does the shackle line descend at the approach to the water-bath stunner such that the wings (especially waterfowl and turkeys) make contact with the water before the heads, resulting in shocks?
    • Is the descent of the shackle line so gradual that the bird's beak slowly comes into contact with the water, resulting in shocks and avoidance behaviour?
    • Are birds touching each other?
    • Are birds flapping their wings as they approach the stunner, such that the flapping wings come in contact with the sides of the water-bath stunner and receive shocks?
    • Are there pre-stun shocks when birds enter the stunner? With the beak or with the wings?
    • Are there repeated pre-stun shocks as they make repeated contact with the brine solution or metal grid in the stunner?
    • Is the stunner adjusted to the proper height so the birds are immersed in the water-bath stunner up to their shoulders, or are just the tip of their heads or beaks in the water which makes it easier for birds to avoid the brine?
    • Is there great variation in bird size so some birds are well immersed in the brine solution while others are poorly immersed and/or in contact with the electric plate?

6.5.3 Electric water-bath stunning

  • Electricity flow is similar to a river flow, the power of the water is the voltage (V), and the rocks and obstacles are the resistance (R) to the flow. The final result is the current (I) (Ohm's law: Current (I) = Voltage (V)/Resistance (R)). The current is express in amperes, the voltage in volts and the resistance in ohms.
  • Familiarize yourself with voltage and amperage displays and learn what the display actually shows. For example, the amperage display on the water-bath stunner only indicates the total current flowing through the entire water-bath, not the current flowing through each bird. Divide the amperage by the number of birds in the water-bath at any given time to find out the approximate amount of current flowing through each bird. This value is approximate because individual bird resistance is unknown and it affects how much current actually flows through each bird. Birds with less resistance will have more current flowing through them (and a better stun) than birds with higher individual resistance, resulting in a weak stun or electro-immobilization.
  • The use of equipment to test electrical parameters does NOT replace the need to monitor that the stun is actually effective. Electric water-bath stunning effectiveness involves more than a given set of parameters (voltage, current, frequency, stun duration). It also involves a variety of bird or equipment factors such as:
    • variation between and within bird lots based on species, type, weight, age and sex;
    • individual bird resistance
    • the number of birds in the water bath at any given time
    • water level and stunner height adjustments so that the birds' heads are consistently fully immersed in the water-bath, or the head itself is in full contact with the electric plate, for the entire length of the stunner (that is, the point of contact is not just the beak, nor the neck, wing or chest, but it is the head)
    • stunner entry design to prevent birds from raising their heads and avoid the water
    • brine concentration to optimize conductivity
    • effective shackle grounding, so that contact is made and current flows well and steadily (an uninterrupted electrical circuit is maintained)
    • adequate spacing so that birds are not in contact with each other as they enter the stunner
    • entry ramp design to prevent pre-stun shocks

6.5.4 Electric grid/plate stunning

  • Refer to Guidelines for stunning techniques for avian food animals, including ratites for a complete description of electric plate or grid/plate systems for electrical stunning of birds.
  • It is important that the bird's eye be in contact with the electric grid or plate, because the electric current can enter the skull more easily if the electrified brine solution or the electric grid/plate is in direct contact with the eye. From the eye, the current passes through the optic nerve into the brain. The brain may not be reached if only the head, feathers or neck touch the plate, since the head and feathers provide significant resistance to current flow, and contact with the neck will bypass the brain and is likely to result in electro-immobilization.
  • Electric grid/plate stunners deliver a head-only stun which is usually of short duration, so it is important to verify that birds are not showing signs of sensibility or return to sensibility prior to, during and after neck-cutting.

6.5.5 Head-only electrical stunning

  • Ensure the electrodes span the brain and are not applied to the neck or beak.
  • A head-only stun will not cause cardiac arrest and may be of shorter duration than a water-bath stun. Bleeding should occur preferably within 15 seconds of the end of stun application to prevent birds from returning to sensibility before dying of blood loss.

6.5.6 Controlled Atmosphere Stunning (CAS)

  • Visually observe that birds are not adversely reacting to gas exposure. They should not be piling, vocalizing or attempting to escape.
  • It is not acceptable to have neck cutting located so far from the gas stunner that the birds require or are given a second stun prior to neck cutting.
  • If an operator uses a gas mixture which differs from previous mixtures or is not included in the examples provided in Guidelines for stunning techniques for avian food animals, including ratites, verify that the desired outcome is met (birds are rendered insensible and remain insensible until death; any adverse behavioural reaction is minimal).

6.5.7 Captive bolt stunning

6.5.8 Ritual slaughter with prior stunning

  • If a licence holder wishes to stun birds prior to ritual slaughter, the requirements of SFCR 141 fully apply; the stun has to be effective; monitoring must ensure stunning is effective; and corrective action must be taken if it is not effective.
  • Light stunning or electro-immobilization, as a means to immobilize the bird prior to the ritual cut, is not acceptable. The licence holder can adjust stunner settings to ensure birds are not killed by voltage/current/frequency combinations known to cause electrocution and cardiac arrest, but the electrical current flowing through each bird must be strong enough to stun effectively.

6.6 Monitoring sensibility, insensibility and return to sensibility

  • Refer to the "Table of signs for monitoring the outcome of stunning in avian food animals" in Mechanical, electrical, gas stunning, slaughter methods and monitoring signs of unconsciousness or consciousness for a complete list of signs of unconsciousness and consciousness (or return to consciousness) in avian species following electrical, captive bolt and gas stunning.
  • In terms of general appearance upon exiting a water-bath stunner:
    • well-stunned birds with cardiac arrest go limp as soon as the exit the stunner
    • well-stunned birds with no cardiac arrest will undergo a period of tonic/clonic convulsions when they exit the stunner. The tonic signs include a mildly arched neck, wings held close to the body, and wing tremors. The clonic signs follow the tonic ones, and when the convulsions cease, the wings will droop (hang down limply)
    • less well-stunned birds with very weak tonic/clonic convulsions will stop convulsing and their wings will droop or hang limply sooner than well-stunned birds
    • birds which are only immobilized or rendered unconscious for a very brief period of time may have no seizures or only weak partial seizures. Their wings will hang limply with some immobility for a few seconds. They will likely have recovered and react to pain when their neck is cut by flapping their wings. Wing flapping will continue intermittently until blood loss induces unconsciousness followed by death. Other subtle signs of sensibility prior to this include a righting reflex, rhythmic breathing, mouth/beak movements (associated with swallowing) and third eyelid spontaneous blinking
  • An effective electrical stun that does not kill the bird should generally last approximately 30 seconds. An ineffective stun may be immediately apparent, or may wear off in up to 10-20 seconds post-stun.
  • In any case, the stun must last long enough so that the bird does not return to sensibility before it dies from blood loss.
  • Birds which are electro-immobilized instead of being stunned because of application of insufficient electrical current will be paralyzed but fully conscious. They may look identical to properly stunned birds, but they normally regain the ability to move and exhibit typical signs of sensibility approximately 10 seconds after stunner exit.
  • Ideal times to observe birds for ineffective stunning and return to sensibility while conducting CVS Task 5.1.03 are as follows:
    • immediately upon stunner exit: to identify poorly stunned or non-stunned birds
    • 15 seconds after stunner exit: to identify birds returning to sensibility after electro-immobilization or a weak stun
    • 30 to 45 seconds after stunner exit: to identify birds returning to sensibility after a proper stun if for any reason bleeding is delayed, ineffective or slow
  • Observation during neck cutting can detect birds reacting to the cut, which is an indication of sensibility.
  • Observation prior to scalder entrance will detect uncut birds, birds with poor neck cuts, and birds which have not bled out sufficiently to be killed.
  • Evaluate signs of return to sensibility collectively, instead of focussing attention on a single sign. A single sign may not necessarily indicate that an animal is sensible.
    • Three (3) things can happen when you see a single sign of sensibility:
      • the sign may disappear and never reappear: the animal is insensible
      • the sign can persist: questionable insensibility; corrective action required
      • the sign can persist and then be followed by one or more other signs of sensibility: the animal is returning to sensibility. Immediate corrective action required to re-stun or kill the animal
  • Beak movements in any type of birds after water bath electrical stunning, in the absence of any other sign, may not necessarily indicate full consciousness or return of consciousness except if link with swallowing manifested as beak movements and swallowing after stunning-from ingestion of water and after cutting-from ingestion of blood. The return of breathing movements (body wall movement in the vent area) after electrical stunning is on the other hand an indication some brain functions are returning due to reorganization of neuronal activity, and it indicates that consciousness may also be returning.
  • The presence of a corneal or palpebral response elicited after stunning and neck cutting may indicate an early sign of potential return to sensibility in electrically-stunned animals (avian and mammals). These brainstem reflexes are not reliable indicators of insensibility or return to sensibility, and they should not be used routinely because of variability and inconsistent interpretation. Eye reflexes indicate that an animal is alive, but they do not necessarily mean the animal is conscious, especially if there are no other signs of return to sensibility. If there is any doubt that natural blinking was observed, or other signs of sensibility may have been observed, eliciting eye reflexes is justified.
  • Signs of return to sensibility must be assessed collectively, and immediate corrective action must be taken if there is any doubt the animal is returning to sensibility.

6.7 Corrective actions for failed stuns

  • Ideally, corrective actions following a failed stun are taken immediately upon stunner exit, before neck cutting, and include one of 3 options:
    • re-stunning
    • decapitation
    • if line speed permits it or in the case of geese, ducks or turkeys where decapitation is not always easy to accomplish, complete and simultaneous severance of both carotid arteries and both jugular veins
  • For Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) and practical reasons, and/or because of line configuration, it may be impossible to take corrective action on a bird before the automatic cutter.
  • Therefore realistically, because of a combination of fast line speed and close proximity of the automatic neck cutter to the stunner exit, corrective action for poorly stunned or non-stunned birds is usually complete and rapid decapitation after birds go through the neck cutter.
  • Providing line speed is slow enough to allow it, an acceptable alternate corrective action is complete and simultaneous severance of both carotid arteries and both jugular veins in one single knife stroke (all 4 vessels), leaving the head attached, to ensure rapid bleed-out and rapid death. The operator must ensure that complete severance of all 4 vessels is as effective as decapitation. This procedure is not possible in high speed poultry slaughter establishments.
  • For birds going through the water-bath stunner and emerging completely or partly sensible, it is unacceptable to remove them from the shackle line and re-hang them for a second pass through the stunner. Doing so subjects them to avoidable suffering (SFCR 128).

6.7.1 Understanding what an objective performance criteria of 98% efficiency means

  • We do not expect automatic stunning and neck-cutting equipment to be 100% effective at all times. However we do expect automatic equipment to be at least 98% effective at all times (refer to the Objective performance criteria for humane slaughter). If it is not, corrective action on the equipment must be taken to increase stunning or bleeding efficiency. This does not mean there is any tolerance for poorly stunned or poorly bled birds. Corrective action must be taken for every single improperly stunned, bled or missed bird regardless of equipment performance. "Tolerance" is for the equipment performance itself. We will tolerate up to 2% failed stuns without taking corrective action on the equipment, but corrective action will be taken on each bird that is improperly stunned. Corrective action on the equipment must be taken if performance drops below 98% effective stunning or bleeding.

6.8 Bleeding

  • Bleeding time of at least 90 seconds is applicable to all poultry species, including quail, and to all slaughter methods.
  • The absence of visible signs of sensibility does not guarantee that all birds are dead prior to entry into the scalder. Unless there is sound science to support a shorter bleeding time, empirical observations of no visible signs of sensibility at the establishment do not provide sufficient evidence to justify anything shorter than 90 seconds. Therefore a minimum bleeding time of 90 seconds shall be allowed to ensure that no live birds enter the scalder.

6.8.1 Automatic neck cutting

  • Verify that the automatic neck cutter is adjusted for the size of each lot to avoid cutting the head of smaller birds or the body of larger birds.
  • Verify that birds do not pile in front of the neck cutter, resulting in a missed or poor cut.

6.8.2 Decapitation as an alternative to automatic neck cutting

  • In establishments that routinely decapitate all birds instead of automatic neck cutting, stunning effectiveness must still be monitored and corrective action taken on equipment if performance falls below 98%, even if the usual corrective action for poorly stunned birds is decapitation.
  • Verify that the stunning parameters have been validated for effectiveness in plants performing routine decapitation. This is especially important due to inability to monitor return to sensibility downstream from decapitation. The goal of validation is to avoid situations where stunning parameters are causing electro-immobilization instead of unconsciousness. With decapitation occurring a few seconds after stun application, it would be impossible to differentiate the two and to know if stunning is compliant with SFCR 141 or not.
  • Verify that the operator has a system in place for detecting any bird which may have missed the automatic decapitating equipment, and for taking corrective action for such birds.

6.8.3 Application of second shocks to promote rapid bleeding

  • Some plants may wish to deliver a second shock to enhance bleed-out. It is only acceptable to deliver a second electrical shock (stun) if the licence holder can validate that the 1st stun was effective; otherwise the 1st stun might only result in electro-immobilization and this would be masked by the 2nd
  • For a second shock administered after bleeding, there is concern that birds which were only electro-immobilized, or which are waking up from a stun before dying of blood loss, will be subjected to avoidable suffering. There is a possibility that the objective of the second stun is to mask inadequate stunning and therefore avoid observable signs of sensibility during bleeding.
  • An operator wishing to apply a post-stun shock must demonstrate that:
    • electric water-bath stunning parameters are effective at inducing an effective stun
    • bleeding occurs as soon as possible after stunning
    • bleeding must be as effective as possible (4 vessels)
    • competent personnel is constantly present to monitor for poorly stunned or poorly bled birds and to rapidly decapitate them before the post-stun shock
    • personnel can immediately stop the line if stunning or automatic bleeding is ineffective
    • monitoring of stunning, bleeding and back-up personnel occurs regularly
    • the AWPCP includes the above measures

6.9 Inadequate bleeding

  • Although there is no prescribed limit to the number of inadequately bled birds, it is important for the operator to evaluate the cause when a pre-determined threshold has been reached so that a minor problem does not escalate to a level with more significant AW impact. The operator must determine and specify a limit in the AWPCP, and include a written procedure to address this issue.
  • Considering that automatic stunning and cutting equipment can perform effectively at least 98-99% of the time, a 1-2% limit for inadequately bled birds could be considered reasonable.
  • CFIA must be notified by the operator when the pre-determined limit is reached.

6.9.1 Corrective action for inadequate bleeding

  • Once the limit of cut but inadequately bled birds is reached, stunning and killing procedures must be evaluated and corrective actions must be taken to correct the issues that are resulting in an inadequate bleed-out.

6.10 Uncut birds

  • Uncut birds are a zero tolerance issue for which the operator is expected to take immediate corrective action with each occurrence.
  • Because all methods of poultry stunning are considered reversible, a neck cut to sever the major blood vessels is mandatory to ensure death by exsanguination before entry into the scalder. For this reason, lack of a neck cut leads to the presumption that a bird was alive when it entered the scalder.
  • It is very important to make the distinction between uncut birds and inadequately bled birds. Inadequately bled birds have a neck cut, but they have not bled out properly. In contrast, uncut birds have no neck cut at all. An incomplete bleed-out has a potential impact on animal welfare because blood loss is what kills the bird, whereas uncut birds are definitely a welfare issue.
  • The fact that there is a zero tolerance for uncut birds does not mean that there will be zero incidences. Even in the best poultry slaughter establishment, stunning efficiency and automatic knife efficiency are usually only about 98 to 99%; and effective, well-trained and experienced back-up cutting personnel, responsible for ensuring there are no sensible or uncut birds on the bleed line, are subject to momentary lapses of attention or other factors that may cause an uncut bird to be missed. Realistically, even the most efficient and well-managed establishments will have the odd uncut bird, but it should be a very rare event.
  • An effective poultry slaughter AWPCP will not only set a goal of zero incidence of uncut birds, but will include a plan for dealing with the rare incidence of uncut birds so that these rare events are immediately detected, communicated to CFIA, corrected and prevented from reoccurring to the highest extent possible.
  • Despite effective preventive measures, there will inevitably be future reoccurrences because of a variety of human, bird, or equipment factors. Realistic expectations should be identified in the AWPCP, but incidence of an uncut bird must remain extremely low.

6.10.1 Compliance actions for uncut birds

  • The measure of an effective AWPCP is how effectively the operator can detect and respond to issues having an immediate impact on regulations without any prompting or guidance from CFIA. The operator's response will determine whether compliance action is required or not.
  • Actions such as an IR-CAR are not required if all of the following apply:
    • the operator independently identifies problems on their own, without being alerted by CFIA 
      • in the case of uncut birds, it is the operator who identifies the bird first, not CFIA, and the operator communicates the finding to CFIA promptly
      • note that it is not a non-compliance if the uncut bird is identified by CFIA before it leaves the last employee position that is assigned to identify uncut birds, providing that this employee does identify the uncut bird and initiates the response protocol
    • the operator immediately responds by initiating immediate corrective actions on their own, without CFIA intervention, each time an uncut bird is identified
      • CFIA does not tell the operator what to do or how to do it
      • the corrective actions are effective to bring the process back into compliance and to prevent reoccurrence
      • note that there will inevitably be future occurrences, but they should remain a rare event
      • the above actions indicate an operator is following his AWPCP and it is effective
  • However, an IR-CAR will be issued if any of the following occur:
    • CFIA must initiate control action
    • it is CFIA who identifies the uncut bird and not the operator
    • the operator is unable or unwilling to identify the problem or to take effective corrective action
    • CFIA has to intervene at any point before corrective actions are completed by telling the operator to take action or how to take action
    • the corrective actions are incorrect or ineffective
    • a deliberate act of cruelty is observed; in this case, enforcement action (INCR) could also be taken
    • the operator tries to hide the issue from CFIA
      • in the case of uncut birds, the operator does not notify CFIA each time an uncut bird is found, or
    • there is a pattern of failure, in which the issue becomes repetitive due to the same cause, that is, the corrective actions/preventive measures were not effective
      • the definition of a pattern of failure is subjective and requires judgment and knowledge of the operator history of repetitive failure
  • An operator may be tempted to discontinue preventive measures once the issue appears resolved. Reoccurrence following removal of the preventive measures is an indication that the preventive measures must be permanent.
  • The key determinant of whether an IR-CAR is issued is who identifies the issue; what the operator does about it, and effectiveness of those actions.
  • If incidence of uncut birds tends to be a more common event, in which case there is a pattern of failure, an IR-CAR will be issued, and if the problem persists, enforcement actions could also be taken.

6.11 Quail and other similar small birds (Rock Cornish Hens)

  • Shackles must be designed specifically for smaller birds.
    • the shackle must be much smaller than a chicken shackle due to the birds' small size
    • they must be shackled by 2 feet, one foot in each slot
  • Monitoring for signs of sensibility/insensibility is the same as for other poultry.
  • Bleeding time is the same as traditional poultry.

6.12 Waterfowl

6.13 Ratites

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