ENSCHEDE, Netherlands — Public pressure has forced the European meat industry to change.
The result has been innovations in the way farm animals are raised and slaughtered.
The Dutch company Topkip, which means top chicken in Dutch, has engineered better ways to process poultry because of ongoing problems with proper stunning before slaughter.
“We start with innovation and innovation always comes when there is a problem,” said Wim van Stuyvenberg, one of the partners at Topkip, which is located in Enschede in the eastern Netherlands.
The company worked with engineer Ary Dirkzwager to develop a new system that cradles birds on a carousel without shackling before quickly stunning them with electricity. The system will be installed in an Alberta processing plant next year.
The process was demonstrated for a recent Canadian farm tour group hosted by the Netherlands’ economic affairs ministry.
A new directive from the European Union states birds must be stunned with more electrical current than presently used, but the result is often broken bones and bruised carcasses.
Topkip’s system eliminates the problems inherent with water bath and gas stunning.
The birds are placed in a cone shaped holder that prevents them from twisting or flapping their wings before stunning. The legs are held but not shackled.
Dirkzwager said the design places less stress on their hips and they are not hanging upside down by their feet, which can be painful, especially for heavier birds.
“I put them in the cone because it prevents wing flapping and it prevents damage to the bird.”
A spray nozzle moistens the chickens’ heads to ensure maximum conductivity before electrodes in a paddle are automatically placed on them. A computer assesses how much current each bird needs. The heart is still beating after stunning so the bird can be bleed out more effectively within 10 seconds and improve meat quality.
“Each bird has an individual resistance, and you cannot control that in a water bath for every single bird to get the current it needs,” Dirkzwager said.
In some cases a bird is not stunned so that operators on the line can apply the current manually.
The system can process up to 13,500 chickens per hour. It has also been approved for ritual killing.
Another innovation came with a system of rapid chilling, in which birds pass through six narrow cold water tanks and air chilling until they have reached 4 C.
It takes about four minutes for each eviscerated carcass to pass through and reach the desired temperature.
It took seven years for Topkip to convince the government and processors that the system could work. The company has sold 80 units throughout the EU in the last three years. The fresh, cold water kills pathogens and extends shelf life. Processors are not allowed to use chlorinated water in Europe.
The system also had to be manipulated so that the birds do not pick up added moisture.
“It looks very simple, but it was very, very complicated,” said Dirkzwager. “Science is art and it is physics.”
Negotiations are underway to sell the system in Canada.