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A Step Forward in Chicken Welfare

By Frances Flower, May 4, 2012  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Frances Flower

When we decided to implement Global Animal Partnership’s 5-Step™ Animal Welfare Standards Rating Program, we knew it would make a positive impact for farm animals and the farmers who raise them. In addition to these 5-Step standards, Whole Foods Market has strict animal welfare requirements for all slaughter plants that process the meat we sell.

Not only is each plant audited annually by trained third party auditors to a set of strict criteria, but they are then reviewed and approved by our own in-house team of experts in animal welfare and food safety. Bell & Evans, one of our national chicken suppliers, has taken these requirements a step further and implemented an alternative way to process chicken: Slow Induction Anesthesia (SIA), also known as controlled-atmosphere stunning.

Scott Sechler, owner of Bell & Evans, spent 15 years researching the best way to process chickens. He toured many European processing plants and analyzed their controlled-atmosphere stunning systems before building his own custom version.

The system at Bell & Evans uses carbon dioxide to gently render the birds unconscious – birds are kept in the modular crates that they were loaded into at the farm and moved into the SIA tunnel. When they come out at the end of the tunnel, they are unconscious and are then processed without pain, suffering or stress.

Professor Temple Grandin, a leading authority and well-respected livestock expert, consulted with Bell & Evans as the company worked to design its system. She said it was better because the chickens were not aware of what was happening to them. “Birds don’t like being hung upside down,” Grandin said. “...This (SIA process) is a big step forward in chicken welfare.” Scott says, “Our (Bell & Evans) system is designed so that we put them to sleep without stress,” and as a direct result of this process Scott believes that their meat is a higher quality. Animal advocacy groups including the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) support the Bell & Evans method of stunning. They agree that by listening to consumers, Bell & Evans has set a new standard for the chicken industry. You can find Bell & Evans frozen chicken in our stores nationwide and fresh chicken is sold in select stores – make sure to ask your butcher.

Knowing how animals are processed might be difficult to think about, but we know our customers recognize it’s an important topic to discuss, so tell us what you think!

Photo courtesy of Bell & Evans

Category: Meat, Animal Welfare




Andrea says ...
*Clap, clap, clap. It's wonderful that they found a more humane way to process the chickens. And yes, I agree that happy, healthy animals produce better meat.
05/04/2012 10:47:53 AM CDT
Terri David says ...
I don't eat anything with a mother, a face, or a bowel movement. Killing in a less stressful and painful way is still killing. The animals would choose to live if they had the choice.
05/04/2012 10:57:44 AM CDT
Lou Ann says ...
My sister and I were just discussing this last week. She want to buy some chickens for her new farm, however; methods of slaughtering them was a problem for her. We laughed about my suggestion to just put them in the garage and turn the car engine on!
05/04/2012 11:04:39 AM CDT
Erica says ...
Does anyone else find it creepy that the Bell & Evans guy in the picture is smiling while he is holding those adorable chickens? Are they next to go into the SIA system before being killed? If you want to help chickens, please stop eating them. Veggies, fruit, grains, and beans are delicious and nutritious. If you miss the texture of meat, try Gardein. It is yummy and cruelty-free.
05/04/2012 12:00:49 PM CDT
Diane says ...
How do you know whick chickens died enroute vs the ones that are gassed? Being a small farmer that raises my own food, I unavoidabley end up loosing a few birds in transit - weather stress ect- it is hard to tell if there are any dead ones in the crate untill they are removed. With the hundreds of birds being shipping by commercial companies how would you solve this problem. Don't get me wrong I am all about treating my animals well and giving them the best life possible but my concern is the "quality" of the meat if it is dead before arrival.
05/04/2012 12:47:28 PM CDT
Brett says ...
Carbon dioxide (CO2) = Greenhouse gases So we want to gently put chickens to sleep with CO2 and add more to global warming.......... But a quick shock to stun them is worse?
05/04/2012 1:00:19 PM CDT
Jen says ...
It's a nice idea, but like others have mentioned, it def has its own issues...including environmental...I still think it would be easier/more humane/more healthy for all to just not eat meat!
05/05/2012 12:13:11 AM CDT
Jason says ...
I'm glad to hear about this. And to the people complaining about the environment... I mean come on, people do so many things that are bad for the environment and nobody cares about those things. To say "hey lets not treat animals humanely because the new method will lead to global warming" seems ridiculous to me, given that very few will give up all these other lifestyle pleasures that damage the planet, yet gripe about a more humane slaughter method for chickens. Get some perspective please. And if you're concerned with global warming or the environment, you probably shouldn't be eating meat to begin with. However if people are going to eat meat, it is terrific that their suppliers are providing them with more humanely produced products. I hope to hear more stories like this, given the otherwise gruesome nature of animal industries, it's great to hear positive stories now and then.
05/07/2012 11:19:12 PM CDT
Megan says ...
@Diane We checked in with Bell & Evans and they assured us that they have systems in place to be able to identify any birds that may have died en route to the plant before they enter the tunnel. They say that there are many checks in place to make sure that these birds do not enter the food chain. As a small farmer who deals with similar issues on a smaller scale, feel free to reach out to Bell & Evans directly if you'd like more specifics on their processes. Thanks.
05/15/2012 8:30:51 AM CDT
Megan says ...
@Brett – We shared your concern with Bell &amp; Evans and they let us know that they use very small quantities of CO2 in this process. They also highlighted their company commitment to protecting the environment by using a system to <span style="text-decoration: underline;">air chill chicken</span> rather than using large quantities of water and through utilizing a state of the art wastewater treatment program and a recycling program.
05/15/2012 8:31:38 AM CDT
ellen says ...
thank god that someone cares about these birds who dont deserve the abuse they recieve,,, thank you bell and Evans for not being de sensitized by greed at the expense of a helpless animal.. i will always only buy my chicken from you ,,, thank you
09/25/2012 6:02:52 PM CDT
Larry says ...
I'm so glad that Whole Foods exists. Humans were evolved to eat unprocessed meat, veggies, and fruit. I respect the animals and I'm happy these places exist that respect them too so we may enjoy a healthy lifestyle. There is a big difference between respecting of slaughtering animals and killing animals; they provide for us, not simply killed. How can vegans say no animals are killed in farming when millions of animals are killed in the process of turning the soil, driving tractors, etc? Not to mention all the conventional farming of pesticides. So what happens to all the insects, rodents, birds, and displaced wild life?? ...millions killed.
06/03/2013 2:54:32 PM CDT
Jennifer says ...
I would like to know under which regulations the chicken is processed. I was told that the USDA requires the use of chemicals under certain regulations.
10/31/2013 9:55:23 AM CDT
Anna says ...
Looking for Animal Welfare Approved food, deciding to check Whole Foods and this article came up. The description of the chicken farming you called a "plant" and "industry" I knew I didn't find what I was looking for. I am looking for good old fashion farm meat. Please consider AWA meats in your store as a better option. My search continues....
11/11/2013 4:22:59 PM CST
Christina says ...
At a different grocer, I just saw pack after pack of chicken drumsticks that where all bloody in the same spot above the joint. It appears someone at a different company shackled the chickens incorrectly for the upside-down slaughter method -- perhaps shackling them to high up the leg and crushing the leg vessels, hence the severe bruising. I decided I should look to Whole Foods for more humanely slaughtered chicken, and viola! I came across this article. I am making the switch to buy Bell & Evans chicken meat products next!
04/27/2014 6:52:24 PM CDT
Rebecca Graham says ...
Thank you for this information--it is what I wanted to know. I know God put animals on the earth for us to eat, but they are God's creatures, and should be treated with respect and not made to suffer for our benefit.
09/24/2014 9:46:24 AM CDT