BEIJING • In its final hours before being killed, a chicken deserves to be reasonably comfortable and relatively stress-free. This is the message from China's first official recommendations to the poultry industry, recently issued by Shandong province, on how to slaughter the animals.
The guidelines, which are not mandatory, are motivated as much by commercial considerations as by concerns for animal welfare.
Shandong is China's leading producer of chickens, but traces of damage to the birds, such as broken limbs or blood clots in the meat, have hurt exports.
Still, animal welfare advocates are praising the standards.
"Such specific guidelines... I'm very grateful that they did this in Shandong," said Mr Jeff Zhou, China representative of Compassion in World Farming, a British group that campaigns to end factory farming.
The guidelines, according to the Communist Party newspaper People's Daily, list the steps leading to slaughter and details for each of the recommended procedures to ensure that the chicken's death is as painless as possible.
For example, the guidelines advise against transporting a live chicken longer than three hours. A chicken should be held with both hands, not seized by a single leg or wing. Before being killed, the bird should be anaesthetised by being gassed or having its head dipped into electrified water. The guidelines also recommend using a massaging pad to support the chicken's breast as the birds are moved on an assembly line to be stunned.
Humane slaughter alone does not remove all the cruelty animals in factory farming experience, Mr Zhou said, but the guidelines address an important part of it.
The group is working with its Chinese partners, including the International Cooperation Committee of Animal Welfare, a government- backed research institute, to push for more humane practices, and has released similar recommendations for raising, shipping and slaughtering pigs, cattle and sheep.
Although the Shandong guidelines are China's first for the slaughter of chickens, procedures to reduce animal suffering as well as improve meat quality are being practised elsewhere and for other farm animals. Major slaughterhouses in Beijing, for example, already stun chickens by dipping their heads into electrified water, according to The Beijing News.
In China, where factory farming practices and lax enforcement of food safety codes have contributed to one food scandal after another, there is a business incentive to treat animals better.
As more slaughterhouses adopt procedures for the humane handling of livestock, Chinese meat may find greater acceptance in high-end markets at home and abroad, said Mr Sun Jingxin, a food science professor at Qingdao Agricultural University and the author of the Shandong guidelines.
NEW YORK TIMES