1. Pectoralis major (P. major) muscle pH and meat quality traits were studied in relation to bird response to ante-mortem stress in three chicken lines: a fast-growing standard line (FGL), a slow-growing French 'Label Rouge' line (SGL) and a heavy line (HL). Ninety-nine birds of the three genetic types were slaughtered at their usual marketing age (6, 12 and 6 weeks for FGL, SGL and HL birds, respectively) on the same day. The birds of each line were divided into three different ante-mortem treatment groups: minimum stress (shackling for 10 s) (C), shackling for 2 min (SH) and acute heat plus shackling stress (exposure to 35 degrees C for 3.5 h and shackling for 2 min before stunning) (H + SH). 2. Regardless of chicken line, wing flapping duration (WFD) between hanging and stunning was strongly negatively related to P. major muscle pH at 15 min post-mortem. It was also moderately negatively related to P. major muscle glycolytic potential (GP), which represents glycogen level at death. Increasing WFD induced an increased ultimate pH (pHu) only in HL. The consequences of increased WFD for breast meat traits were dependent on the chicken line: it induced lower L* and b* and higher a* and drip loss in SGL while it only increased breast a* in HL birds. By contrast, WFD variations did not alter breast meat quality traits of FGL birds. Regardless of the chicken line, increased GP was associated with lower pHu and higher L* and drip loss. In SGL, it also increased b* and decreased curing-cooking yield of breast meat. 3. Struggling activity on the shackle line and muscle glycogen content at death could partly explain line and pre-slaughter variations in breast meat pH and quality traits. The water holding capacity of the raw and cooked meat was impaired by long shackling in the case of SGL birds while it was barely affected by ante-mortem conditions in the two standard lines. In conditions which minimised bird struggling (C), SGL and FGL birds had meat with a better water holding ability than that of broilers from the heavy line. However, when broilers were subjected to SH or H + SH conditions, the breast meat water holding capacity of SGL birds was lowered to the same level as that of the heavy line birds.