Inner workings of meat plants

I admit I had no idea what to expect when it was announced a few months ago that Oprah was “going inside” a slaughterhouse to reveal how meat is made.  The video was fantastic and an accurate a representation of what I have seen in large packing plants dozens of times before.  Before the Oprah video was shown, there was also an accurate representation of what happens in a beef processing plant published on Huffington Post last December. Both of the plants featured are operated by Cargill.

Personally, I’m fascinated by how the livestock and meat processing industries seem to have perhaps selectively listened to Dr. Temple Grandin? … or perhaps, until now?  My point is, Dr. Grandin’s animal handling practices and facility designs have been widely adopted, and more and more facilities involved in animal production and slaughtering are using them.  The industry was elated when a movie about her won an Emmy last year.  So was/am I! Improvements in animal handling have been celebrated by the industry many times over.  On the other hand, she’s called for slaughterhouses to have “glass walls” or live video feeds, yet only now are inside views happening.

Something that I have been thinking about this for a long time: What benefits and/or consequences (if any) may come from showing the inner workings of meat plants?  If people are left to assume something, what do they usually assume?  The worst.  And, of course it makes sense that sensational images are used to reaffirm those assumptions.  It is also interesting that this part of the farm-to-plate “story” that “agvocates” are compelled to share ad infinitum is usually omitted.  Slaughter is a pretty major component of the food system algorithm, and if it is omitted then the response outcome (agriculture’s “story”) will be fundamentally flawed.  (It’s not a variable.  Animals have to be slaughtered in order to be food.)

I enjoy photography, but am in no way a professional photographer.  I like capturing images of different objects, various angles, seeing how to best use natural light and what colors I can get into one composition.  A Project-365 (you know, post a photo each and every day…) seemed like something I wanted to do.  After some hem-hawing, I registered Slaughterhouse9844.com (our USDA establishment number, all publicly available from FSIS) and was going to post daily photos taken at our University Meats Laboratory.

Made sense to me, a slaughterhouse erected by the state general assembly and used for public education and outreach. Why not share what happens here with people who want to know?  And, as an added benefit, I could use those photo posts as a component of e-learning modules under development.  Win-win!  I’m fairly certain Flat Stanley learned a thing or two while visiting, so why not share that with others?

I started this little undertaking on January 01, 2011.  A few weeks later I learned that Oprah Winfrey and Lisa Ling were doing essentially the same thing on their show, so this is obviously an issue people want to learn more about.

Part of my why-I-blog-at-work strategy is to write about those things which people are asking questions, to develop and post a response (so I’m not typing the same E-mail message or having the same telephone conversation over and over…)  Popular inquiries, from farmers and consumers alike, include: “How’s my stock slaughtered?” or “How’s bacon made?”  Photos really help answer those questions well.

The blog has been moved to a different address for reasons I won’t dive into, but you can still find it at AcademicAbattoir.org.  Post questions about the processes shown if you have any.  That’s why it’s there… And, there are more and more processes and procedures to come that have yet to be posted.

Right now I’m working on a post with the working title:  How Much is Too Much? It pertains to what is “showable” (versus teachable?) and what can’t (versus shouldn’t?) be posted.

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7 thoughts on “Inner workings of meat plants

  1. You are rocking the slaughterhouse world with this stuff Chris! I think for those of us who see things everyday, we just think people won’t find them of interest, but it’s amazing how much they do!

  2. Chris – this is at the same time scary and surprising. Having worked in the meat business for many years, I guess I thought “general public” would not want to see the process. I myself never cared to watch until after the kill, since it was my critters usually. To me, once the head is off, it’s another hunk of meat! I would proceed cautiously to see the reaction. Did not see Oprah’s piece, but I’m sure I will at some point in time. Thanks for your work!

  3. Thanks for this and your other posts – I always learn something. I didn’t know about your photo project – it’s great. The link to the slaughterhouse to have “glass walls” didn’t work for me – can you repost?

    Thanks much for all you do.

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