Atkinson, S., Algers, B., Pallisera, J. et al. 2020. Animal welfare and meat quality assessment in gas stunning during commercial slaughter of pigs using hypercapnic-hypoxia (20% CO2 2% O2) compared to acute hypercapnia (90% CO2 in Air). Animals 10(12), 2440.
This study assessed aversion, stunning effectiveness, and product quality of nitrogen and carbon dioxide (CO2) mixtures used for stunning pigs. A total of 1852 slaughter pigs divided into two similar batches was assessed during routine slaughter in a Swedish commercial abattoir using either hypercapnic-hypoxia (20% CO2 and less than 2% O2; 20C2O) or hypercapnia (90% CO2; 90C) gas mixtures. Behavioral indicators of aversion and discomfort were recorded. After exposure, the stunning quality was assessed through brainstem reflexes. After slaughter, the pH and electric conductivity of carcasses were assessed to estimate the incidence of pale, soft, and exudative (PSE) pork, and the presence of ecchymosis were inspected. Compared to 90C, pigs exposed to 20C2O showed a later (p < 0.05) onset of behaviors indicative of aversion, and a lower (p < 0.01) incidence of breathlessness. However, unconsciousness (i.e., losing posture) appeared earlier (p < 0.01) in 90C compared to 20C2O. In 90C, all (100%) pigs were adequately stunned, whereas in 20C2O a 7.4% of pigs showed signs of poor stunning, especially when oxygen concentrations were >2% (p < 0.001). The percentage of PSE carcasses was higher (p < 0.01) in 20C2O than 90C. In conclusion, compared to 90C, 20C2O reduced aversion and discomfort but showed lower stun effectiveness, especially when O2 was above 2%, and a slightly poorer pork quality.