Validation of indicators used to assess unconsciousness in veal calves at slaughter

M.T.W. Verhoeven*, M.A. Gerritzen, L.J. Hellebrekers, B. Kemp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

European legislation states that after stunning regular checks should be performed to guarantee animals are unconscious between the end of the stunning process and death. When animals are killed without prior stunning these checks should be performed before the animal is released from restraint. The validity of certain indicators used to assess unconsciousness under different stunning and slaughter conditions is under debate. The aim of this study was to validate the absence of threat-, withdrawal-, corneal- and eyelid reflex as indicators to assess unconsciousness in calves subjected to different stunning and slaughter methods. Calves (201±22 kg) were randomly assigned to one of the following four treatments: (1) Captive bolt stunning followed by neck cut in an inverted position (n=25); (2) Non-stunned slaughter in an upright position (n=7); (3) Non-stunned slaughter in an inverted position (180° rotation) (n=25); (4) Non-stunned slaughter in an upright position followed by captive bolt stunning 40 s after the neck cut (n=25). Each calf was equipped with non-invasive electroencephalogram (EEG) electrodes before the slaughter procedure. All reflexes were verified once before the slaughter procedure. At the beginning of the procedure (T=0 s) calves were stunned (treatment 1) or neck cut in an upright position (treatment 2, 4) or inverted position (treatment 3). Calves of treatment 4 were captive bolt stunned 34±8 s after the neck cut. Reflexes were assessed every 20 s from T=15 s for all treatments until all reflex tests resulted in a negative response three times in a row and a flat line EEG was observed. In addition, reflexes were assessed 5 s after captive bolt stunning in calves of treatments 1 and 4. Visual assessment of changes in the amplitude and frequency of EEG traces was used to determine loss of consciousness. Timing of loss of consciousness was related to timing of loss of reflexes. After captive bolt stunning, absence of threat-, withdrawal-, corneal- and eyelid reflex indicated unconsciousness as determined by EEG recordings. After non-stunned slaughter, both threat- and withdrawal reflex were on average lost before calves were unconscious based on EEG recordings. The eyelid- and corneal reflex were on average lost after calves had lost consciousness based on EEG recordings and appeared to be distinctly conservative indicators of unconsciousness in non-stunned slaughtered calves since they were observed until 76±50 and 85±45 s (mean±SD), respectively, after EEG-based loss of consciousness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1457-1465
JournalAnimal
Volume10
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Keywords

  • (un)consciousness
  • calves
  • electroencephalogram
  • reflexes
  • slaughter

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