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Pithing // is a slaughtering technique in which the brain of the animal is destroyed by a tool called a pithing cane or rod, which is inserted into the hole which is created by captive bolt stunning. Trained slaughtermen will be experienced in the use of captive bolt weapons. After stunning, the rod is inserted into the stunning hole and pushed to its full length, the rod then remains locked in the hole and is disposed of with the animal. Double pithing destroys the spinal cord, thus killing the animal, and also may reduce the reflex kicking which occurs at stunning, and so contribute to the safety of the slaughterman. This method is also used when dealing with diseased animals in the case of epidemic or notifiable disease. Pithing is viewed as a humane way of killing an animal that is going to be slaughtered or destroyed for disease control or humane reasons, for example an animal which is severely injured in an accident. When animals must be killed humanely on farm for disease control purposes or in an emergency situation, disposable pithing rods allow the slaughterman to adopt best practice. They ensure humane slaughter, seal the stunning hole reducing bleeding and so provide good biosecurity protection and eliminate the need to bleed out the animal. Disposable devices will help to ensure that the rods do not represent a risk of disease spread, and that they remain with the animal when it is disposed. In the case of outbreak of notifiable or epidemic disease, government agencies and welfare organisations may develop contingency plans. "Planned stocking" may be necessary to ensure that rods are available at short notice in the event of a disease outbreak.
Today, pithing is not practiced on animals intended for the human food supply because it may lead to the spread of fragments of neural matter through the carcass, but this method is encouraged for animals in emergency or disease control situations where the meat will not be consumed. USA regulations are currently in place disallowing importation of beef from cows which have been killed in this manner, due to risk of Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or "mad cow") disease. The European Union has also banned the practice on animals intended for human consumption.
In biology classes
This method also refers to a procedure used in biology classes to immobilize a specimen, for instance a frog, by inserting a needle up through the base of the skull (from the back) and then wiggling the needle around, destroying the brain. It allows for dissecting the frog, as well as observing its living physiology, such as the beating heart and expansion and contraction of the lungs, without causing unnecessary pain to the animal. The specimen remains living because respiration continues through the skin without cerebral control.
Gary Larson mentioned pithed frogs in a Far Side cartoon. The husband frog is driving erratically, causing his wife to complain, "Criminy! You're driving like you've been pithed or something".
- Larson, Gary. The PreHistory of the Far Side. Andrews and McMeel 1989. p. 270