Characterizing candidate decompression rates for hypobaric hypoxic stunning of pigs. Part 2: Pathological consequences

Emma M. Baxter, Dorothy E. F. McKeegan, Marianne Farish, Jill R. Thomson, Richard E. Clutton, Stephen N. Greenhalgh, Rachael Gregson, Jessica E. Martin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Abstract

Pigs are commonly stunned pre-slaughter by exposure to carbon dioxide (CO2), but this approach is associated with significant welfare concerns. Hypobaric hypoxia, achieved with gradual decompression (also known as Low Atmospheric Pressure Stunning or LAPS) may be an alternative, allowing the retention of welfare friendly handling approaches and group stunning. Although validated in poultry, the feasibility and welfare consequences of gradual decompression for pigs are unknown. Here, we characterize pathological changes in 60 pigs resulting from exposure to a range of candidate decompression curves (ranging from 40 to 100 ms−1 ascent equivalent, with two cycle durations 480 and 720 s). To protect welfare, we worked on unconscious, terminally anesthetized pigs which were subject to detailed post-mortem examinations by a specialized porcine veterinary pathologist. All pigs were killed as a result of exposure to decompression, irrespective of cycle rate or length. Pigs showed no external injuries during ante-mortem inspections. Exposing pigs to decompression and the unavoidable subsequent recompression resulted in generalized congestion of the carcass, organs and body cavities including the ears, oral cavity, conjunctivae and sclera, mucosa of other external orifices (anus and vulva), nasal planum, nasal cavities including nasal conchae, frontal sinuses, cranium, meninges, brain, larynx, trachea, lungs, heart, parietal pleura of the thoracic cavity, peritoneum of the abdominal cavity, stomach, small intestine, caecum, colon, liver, spleen and kidneys and representative joint cavities in the limbs (stifles and elbows). Various severities of hemorrhage were observed in the conjunctivae and sclera, mucosa of other external orifices (anus and vulva), nasal cavities including nasal conchae, frontal sinuses, cranium, meninges, brain, larynx, tracheal lumen, lungs, parietal pleura of the thoracic cavity, liver, spleen and kidneys and representative joint cavities in the limbs (stifles and elbows). In general, faster decompression rates produced higher scores, but in the conjunctivae, sclera and kidneys, faster decompression rates were associated with marginally lower congestion scores. There was considerable individual variation in pathological scores across all body regions. The congestion and hemorrhage observed could translate into welfare harms in conscious pigs undergoing this type of stunning, depending when in the cycle the damage is occurring, but no welfare related conclusions can be drawn from the responses of unconscious pigs. Since recompression is always required, its effects cannot be separated from decompression, however cessation of cardiac activity several minutes before recompression should have eliminated any haemodynamic effects relating to cardiac function and blood pressure. This study represents the first systematic attempt to identify candidate rate profiles to underpin future explorations of decompression as a stunning method for pigs. These pathological findings also inform discussions about the likely carcass quality implications of this novel stunning method.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1027883
JournalFrontiers in Veterinary Science
Volume9
Early online date9 Nov 2022
DOIs
Publication statusFirst published - 9 Nov 2022

Keywords

  • Veterinary Science
  • low atmospheric pressure
  • slaughter
  • killing
  • swine
  • anatomy
  • decompression

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