updated 5/12/2005 3:03:17 PM ET 2005-05-12T19:03:17

Applebee's International Inc. shareholders on Thursday rejected a PETA proposal that the nation's largest casual dining chain adopt a more humane way of slaughtering chickens.

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During its annual meeting, the company said the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals proposal received less than 6 percent of total votes.

The Norfolk, Va., animal rights group says the current slaughtering method used by Applebee's suppliers — shackling the birds and stunning them with an electric bath before cutting their throats or dunking them in boiling water to remove the feathers — doesn't always stop the animals from feeling pain.

The organization was pushing for the company to demand its suppliers use "Controlled Atmosphere Killing," which slowly puts the chickens to sleep with an inert gas.

PETA special projects coordinator David Benjamin told the audience that the technology would pay for itself by reducing damage to carcasses and by being less traumatic to employees.

PETA has put the issue before shareholders at several other companies. Shareholders at Wendy's International Inc. rejected the proposal last month and it's on the agenda for grocer Kroger Co.'s annual meeting this summer, Benjamin said.

Applebee's executives said they care about animal welfare but the new technology would increase costs and the benefits are inconclusive. McDonald's Corp. plans to complete a study next month on controlled atmosphere killing, which is already used by some of the chain's European suppliers.

After the meeting, Benjamin said the group's goal was to get the issue in front of shareholders. He predicted they would eventually push the company to move to controlled atmosphere killing.

Applebee's operates or franchises close to 1,700 restaurants across the U.S. and 12 countries.

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