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These are very calm pigs, and that’s the way we want them to be.
January 23, 2014 7:58 AM   Subscribe

Danish Crown is the world's largest exporter of pork, killing approximately 100,000 pigs a week to cater to the growing global demand for meat. Alastair Philip Wiper visited the company's abattoir in Horsens to capture a behind-the-scenes look at the entire process, starting at the pens where the pigs arrive and moving through the spaces where the animals are slaughtered, butchered and packaged for sale.
posted by timshel (40 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Unfortunately most of us don't live in that world, and while there is a strong case for a serious discussion about whether or not we really need to eat, or should be eating, as much meat as we do, that is a discussion for another day.

No, it's not. Factory farming is terribly cruel, environmentally devastating, and economically ruinous. It's a discussion for right now, and anyone who says otherwise is either wilfully obtuse or flat-out lying.
posted by Shepherd at 8:05 AM on January 23 [28 favorites]


Well, it was worth reading for the last line alone:

"I am happy to admit that I finished my tour with a sausage in the canteen."
posted by HuronBob at 8:23 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Shepherd: Is that wilfully obtuse in a similar sense to someone ignoring that articles can't go on forever and have to take into account page limits/word counts, that sort of thing?
posted by biffa at 8:28 AM on January 23 [5 favorites]


No, it's not.

Apparently, my crazy friend here hasn't heard of the food chain.
posted by FJT at 8:30 AM on January 23 [6 favorites]


What's the EC mark number for Horsens? I would love to know for the next time I have some bacon from there. It looks so clean.
posted by Thing at 8:30 AM on January 23


That was ... surprisingly less disturbing than I went in expecting. I guess it says something about what we've come to expect from factory farming that those photos almost look ... clean?

Upon reflection, what's conspicuously absent from this essay is any photos of the pigs while they are alive. This almost feels like a shill for the factory farming industry.
posted by jbickers at 8:31 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Photo 15 has living pigs!
posted by Thing at 8:32 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Be aware, the top photo is a slideshow, I missed that the first time through....
posted by HuronBob at 8:34 AM on January 23


This almost feels like a shill for the factory farming industry.

It is a shill for the factory farming industry. The very first line is essentially "I love pork," followed shortly by some shitty condescension towards people who actually care about how animals are raised, then followed by how this entire visit was planned well ahead of time and carefully choreographed by the plant owners.

From the very first word on through to the author enjoying delicious sausages in the plant cafeteria, this is 10,000% a puff piece. It has nothing to do with journalism and everything to do with PR.

The author makes his living photographing industrial sites to make them look beautiful, for Christ's sake. Aside from a photo essay on the hard-working, tough-minded heroes of the blood diamond industry, I don't know of a better way he could advertise himself as a morally compromised, for-hire shill to anyone with a dollar to spend to make a horrorshow look palatable.
posted by Shepherd at 8:38 AM on January 23 [25 favorites]


The condescension is indeed shitty, but I interpreted it differently. His distaste isn't toward people who care about how animals are raised - it's exactly the opposite. The distaste is toward people who eat meat while refusing to acknowledge the realities of its origin - toward the cognitive dissonance that chooses not to take a hard look behind the blooded curtain because they know they won't like what they see. It seems to me to be an extension of the notion that if you can't bear to slaughter it yourself, you shouldn't be eating it.

Also: the article says that the slaughterhouse was designed with the intention of visitors in mind, and receives around 150 visitors a day. That's a lot of subterfuge needed all day every day, to hide what's really going on... unless the sanitised vision the visitors are seeing really is what's going on.
posted by talitha_kumi at 8:50 AM on January 23 [6 favorites]


It has nothing to do with journalism and everything to do with PR.

Why do all photos of slaughterhouses need to be photojournalism?
posted by timshel at 8:56 AM on January 23


Why do all photos of slaughterhouses need to be photojournalism?

Because glossy photos of slaughterhouses beg a heck of a lot of questions.
posted by mochapickle at 8:57 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Ahhhh, dat aspect ratio. Is he using a 4x5 view camera, or cropping everything?
posted by scose at 9:03 AM on January 23


Because glossy photos of slaughterhouses beg a heck of a lot of questions.

What about these photos of industrial sites by David Lynch? Or these nice photos of Tokyo's Tsukiji Market? Are these only ethically sound if taken and viewed as photojournalism?
posted by timshel at 9:14 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


This post was awfully surprising until I realised it wasn't about the Danish Crown.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:14 AM on January 23 [4 favorites]


Nevermind, this interview says he uses a Nikon D800. Guess he is attracted to the 4:5 ratio because all of his work is cropped from the digital camera's native 2:3.

Aside from that, the stillness, symmetrical compositions, lack of any really wide or tele shots, and deep depth of field all make his work look like it was taken with a 4x5 view camera.
posted by scose at 9:15 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Personally, I only eat organic meat, and that only rarely. Factory farms are abomination, in my view. But, i live in a working class area, and most of my neighbors eat the cheapest meat they can buy. In that context, its good to know that the slaughterhouse is clean and safe and Danish plants are strictly regulated. The local schools here try to teach the children to "eat food", Bittmann style, but real life is that lots of people buy low-quality products for various reasons.
When I was a child, going to all the farm fairs possible with my gran's prize ponies, I loved the dairy and pork tents with their lovely pork sandwiches, sausages and dairy produce. All the best of the best because it was farmers' quality. Mmmmm - even though I've stopped eating it, I still cherish the memory. Danish products, like bacon and butter are all produced by co-ops, and even while Danish Crown is a monster, it is still a co-op, and has its roots in the movements for empowering farmers which have formed Danish culture in the late 19th and early 20th century.
That said, Danish Crown are most probably bad guys. They plan to move as much production as possible to countries with less state control and no workers' rights. Like Poland. I hope the international market notices this and insists on the made in Denmark stamp.
posted by mumimor at 9:21 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Remind me of Our Daily Bread which is scenes from various industrial food producers in Europe.

IMHO the fact it looks so glossy to Americans is probably not because it has been cropped to look sanitized, but because of the way meat production is regulated here vs. in Europe. I am sure many US slaughterhouses, if magically transported to Europe somehow, would be shut down by regulators for multiple violations of local regulations.

But as someone who has been involved with "alternative" meat production in the US, you know, the local sustainable pastured etc. stuff, it does give me pause. These industrial producers in Europe do a much better job in that final step than most slaughterhouses I've dealt with. They are more humane by most objective measures than small slaughterhouses. They waste less of the animal.

There is a documentary in process about this called Farm and Red Moon about the small farm slaughterhouse issue that promises to be very interesting.
posted by melissam at 9:28 AM on January 23 [4 favorites]


Denmark also banned the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics in pigs back in the '90s.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 9:40 AM on January 23 [4 favorites]


Whether or not this article is shilling for a company, I agree with the premise that we should know where our food comes from and how it is made, and that transparency is better than secrecy. I am less interested in the ethics of meat-eating and more interested in how accurately this article presents its subject matter.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:48 AM on January 23


Unfortunately most of us don't live in that world, and while there is a strong case for a serious discussion about whether or not we really need to eat, or should be eating, as much meat as we do, that is a discussion for another day.

Shepherd: No, it's not.

FJT: Apparently, my crazy friend here hasn't heard of the food chain.

I'm not sure if you're joking, kidding on the square, or serious, because you quote from The Simpsons and linked to an image from Meat and You: Partners in Freedom, "Number 3F03 in the 'Resistance is Useless' Series" from The Simpsons. (Ralph Wiggum: "When I grow up, I'm going to go to Bovine University!")

But I'll pretend you're at least somewhat serious, and point out that you can still be at the top of the food chain and eat environmentally friendly, humanely raised and butchered meat products. It is just a lot more expensive than factory farmed meat goods.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:03 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


So here's a slaughterhouse that TRIES to do the right thing by being clean and open about what they do, and it's still no good to some people? I understand that some people feel very strongly about (not) eating meat, but it's a fact that to most people, eating meat is just as much a staple as eating veggies. That's not going to go away. To me, a slaughterhouse like this, that tries to be open and ethical about the process, is to be commended, not vilified -- in fact, I wish we had abattoirs like that here in the US.
posted by monospace at 10:12 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]


monospace: So here's a slaughterhouse that TRIES to do the right thing by being clean and open about what they do, and it's still no good to some people?

I believe the issue is factory farming, which isn't actually covered in this article (or directly part of this butchering process, as it seems the pigs are intentionally kept in a quiet, calm space before being rendered unconscious in a CO2 gas chamber, because "If the pigs are stressed when they are killed, the quality of the meat will not be so good."

If the pigs are humanely treated up to the point where this article begins, I can probably get behind Danish Crown as a decent company, until they try to get away from all the good, clean processes they are touting here.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:22 AM on January 23


Shepherd: "to make a horrorshow look palatable."

Glad your rant wasn't in any way filled with hyperbole, or ending on an unproven slur.

Most food animals are extremely calm as they walk their last few paces. They have to be - in the US, at least, bruised meat cannot be sold for human consumption, so even a few panicking animals can drastically cut into the profit line.

There's a constant narrative from the anti-meat crowd that tries to portray the entire slaughtering industry as though nothing has improved since Sinclair's The Jungle was written in 1904.

The reality is that conditions have greatly improved (as the safety of most US meat - poultry excepted - demonstrates). The vast majority provide a quick, relatively pain-free death to the animals in a food-safe process.

But it's much, much easier to paint a shocking picture when death and blood are everywhere in the frame, than by showing animals trapped in tight, clean housing (which, regardless of whether it's humane or not, doesn't come out in stills with the same power as actual blood).

--

Yes, this is a puff piece. However, it's not a Potemkin Village. I've been around animals being slaughtered, in various ways and places. And if I had to be executed for capital crimes, I'd rather Danish Crown did the work than, say, the state of Ohio.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:53 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


filthy light thief: "I believe the issue is factory farming, which isn't actually covered in this article (or directly part of this butchering process, as it seems the pigs are intentionally kept in a quiet, calm space before being rendered unconscious in a CO2 gas chamber, because "If the pigs are stressed when they are killed, the quality of the meat will not be so good.""

So, the issue is a complete derail from the subject of the FPP?
posted by IAmBroom at 10:57 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


The reality is that conditions have greatly improved...

True, and as the article illustrates, the US still has room for a great deal of improvement. Given the quantity of meat consumed in this country, we're not going to get away from factory slaughter, so we need to get off our royal arses and insist upon/make those improvements.

I eat meat, and due to financial circumstances, I eat mostly factory slaughtered meat. I'm working with local ranchers to get away from this, or to raise my own meat, however ranch raised meat, as well as meat raised in the back yard are all impacted by the drought and lack of feed here. The solution for much of the US is to insist on clean and humane conditions and to eat less meat.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:05 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


But have they figured out how to use the squeal yet?
posted by ckape at 11:22 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


From the very first word on through to the author enjoying delicious sausages in the plant cafeteria, this is 10,000% a puff piece. It has nothing to do with journalism and everything to do with PR

Perhaps the Danes do things very differently, but I find it pretty hard to imagine that a factory-ordered PR piece would raise the issue of whether we eat too much meat at all. By the same token, I find it hard to imagine that it would openly avow that the author cannot vouch for how humanely the animals are treated before their delivery to the plant.

You're making some pretty serious allegations of ethical misconduct for a photojournalist here and, so far as I can see, doing so on the basis of no actual information whatsoever.
posted by yoink at 11:34 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Pigs are awesome. But a hog carcase is a completely different problem from a live hog. I find this series of photos interesting from the perspective of seeing the logistics of how so many carcases are broken up, how the various parts are dealt with, and how amazingly clean-looking the facility is (cleanliness at a microbial level is harder to judge, of course). I would be thrilled to be certain that American mass slaughterhouses were as efficient and clean. One of the things I like about my local butcher is that a portion of the butchering process takes place in plain view of the front desk; I can watch a carcase being cut apart as I pay my bill. Yes, there's a smell. On the other hand, I can see for myself how the tools are treated, how things are cleaned up, and the attention that is paid to cutting various parts.

Slaughter is a messy business in a literal sense. It's a lot of work. I can't say I'm happy to see it so mechanized, but I can respect the amount of planning and money that went into creating such an efficient breakdown of carcases on such a large scale. And this is worth noting:
At each step of the process, different parts of the pig are stamped, scanned and recorded, so that each piece of meat in the supermarket can be traced right back to the farm that it came from and the time it was slaughtered.
Traceability. Potentially making accountability more possible.

I would have liked to know, apropos of ckape's jest, what, exactly, is left over, and how is it disposed of? (I have seen a cluster of blue plastic drums, 55 gallons each, ready to be taken away. Where? I should ask next time.) After all of that, how is the waste treated? Visual evidence of that last step would have added something to this photoessay, at least for me.

Thanks, timshel. Interesting find.

Also, unicorn chaser (my second-favorite pig).
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:01 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


"We are the pig, Professor. We are all the pig."

(Since I was just sitting here listening to the soundtrack.)
posted by McCoy Pauley at 12:40 PM on January 23


I think it's interesting how often factory farms are considered a side issue. (Like the great Intelligence Squared Debate on eating meat where the pro-meat side concedes the point that they are awful) I mean, it always seems like everybody agrees they are bad and that people should be eating less meat and in ways that don't damage the environment and then goes back to McDonald's the next day.

This may be a more ethical factory meat producer, but it's still a factory.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:50 PM on January 23


On the subject of Danes and pork: Last summer I was transcribing a late medieval Danish manuscript. That manuscript happened to contain several recipes, each and every one of which involved pork and chicken IIRC. They're so snubby and strange that I couldn't stop laughing when I read them. Here's a rough translation of one:
PORK CHICKEN
"One shall take a hen with a whole leaf of xxx and bacon well cut into small slices, peas and vinegar, and salt to taste. That's called pork chicken."

The end, no moral.
posted by Zero Gravitas at 1:12 PM on January 23


This may be a more ethical factory meat producer, but it's still a factory.

My own ideal for sourcing would be that the animals would be pastured and treated very well for their lives and then when it came time for slaughter could have their last moments in a state of the art facility like this. It's that last piece where the factory technology is able to do a better job than traditional non-factory operations. No one wants the artisanal unique rustic version of what is essentially a medical procedure, which is killing an animal. Too bad the animals they process spent their lives in abject confinement.
posted by melissam at 2:00 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


I have seen a cluster of blue plastic drums, 55 gallons each, ready to be taken away. Where? Coincidentally, I'm watching an episode of NOVA right now, and they are taking cow intestines out of blue plastic 55-gallon drums and cleaning them to use as sausage casings.
posted by BrashTech at 2:59 PM on January 23


That was ... surprisingly less disturbing than I went in expecting. I guess it says something about what we've come to expect from factory farming that those photos almost look ... clean?

I suspect it's more that you're used to the farming standards of the USA. It took me a while to get used to how loathsome the industry is here. I think at least part of it is the rampant corruption, for example how many of the standards and regulatory bodies are all but owned and operated by the industries they supposedly regulate. (See also: Wall Street)
posted by anonymisc at 4:12 PM on January 23


Does anyone know enough to give an overview of the differences in standards and practices for meat processing between Denmark and the US?
posted by Drinky Die at 4:25 PM on January 23


I'm sure that at least some of the cleanliness was due to a quick scrub just before the photo was taken, or having employees substituted for ones with clean clothes for the photos. I can't imagine that e.g. the guy chopping up carcasses could have kept his blue outfit so bloodfree for long. And the floors underneath the hanging carcasses were still wet, with just one or two drops of blood below each.
posted by lollusc at 4:36 PM on January 23


Does anyone know enough to give an overview of the differences in standards and practices for meat processing between Denmark and the US?

I do not. But your question sent me down a bit of a rabbit hole, and I found these articles, which may be of interest:

New Welfare Pig for Danish Market
There is a Danish Meat Trade College in Roskilde? Huh, interesting.
Effective Danish Effort to Reduce Use of Antibiotics
*** DANISH Product Standard (.pdf). Have a look at this one, if you're interested in the lives of pigs
Danish Crown - Pork Processing Plant, Horsens, Denmark -- plant nitty-gritty
Feature: Changes to EU meat inspection
Still searching the European Food Safety Authority's site, which is quite slow for me...

Also, from Penn State, Farmer's Guide to Processing and Selling Meat or Poultry

USDA/NCDA&CS FACILITY GUIDELINES FOR MEAT PROCESSING PLANTS

posted by MonkeyToes at 7:38 PM on January 23


So I eat meat, and I have felt the blood from a newly butchered carcass that is about to be dinner run over my hands. I didn't like it at all. But I eat meat because it is very rewarding in terms of taste and enjoyment.
I buy my meat from the butcher and ask it to be cut just so. I have little truck with folk who just want to eat fillets bought under cling wrap because they are grossed out by death and blood.
If I was forced to murder my own meat I would do so reluctantly, at least at first, but I think permanently, because I am reluctantly taking the life of an animal.
It has lived because I wanted the meat, and it dies because I wanted the meat. I don't raise my own meat, but I keep my laying hens well and choose meat suppliers who promise better conditions for the cows/pigs/lambs.
I'm ok with eating meat. I do it more than I should, as a good global citizen, but I drive more too, and I would rather walk than go without bacon.
As a rule, though, industrial meat packing makes me nervous. My butcher can screw up and cause me some ill, but it takes a factory to make 100,000 ill.
posted by bystander at 5:42 AM on January 24




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