Environmental Issues Control Slaughter Production

When the Danish Crown slaughterhouse in Horsens opened its doors in May 2005, it was not only one of the largest and most modern meat processing plants in the world, but also one of the most environmentally friendly, writes TheMeatSite, senior editor Chris Harris.
calendar icon 4 November 2009
clock icon 7 minute read

Danish Crown's Horsens meat processing plant
Picture: Danish Crown

The plant that has a capacity to process 93,000 pigs a week and that employs a total of 1,370 people has been designed to ensure it is also in tune with the local environment.

It also has developed processes and technology to ensure that its day-to-day running is carried out in the most energy-efficient way.

Danish Crown boasts that the company wastes nothing and uses the most of the technology and processes for an efficient and environmentally friendly production system.

"At Danish Crown in Horsens, we don't have any waste at all. Everything is used," said a company spokesman.

"It is the most automated slaughterhouse in the world.

"The automation has been done to lower the number of employees needed and to increase the hygiene status."

While the automation and new technology have been brought in to increase efficiency and also to meet strict environmental criteria, they also have the effect of reducing costs for the company.

Controlling Heat, Electricity and Water

One of the main targets in increasing efficiency has been to reduce the amount of water used and at the same time the amount of heat and electricity.

The company has managed to reduce the amount of water used per pig down to 170 litres since the plant was opened and it is using the processes within the plant to heat the water. The slaughterhouse uses both regenerated heat and biofuels to heat the plant.

The company estimated that it might be able to further reduce water consumption down further to between 150 and 160 litres per pig.

The company keeps a strict maintenance regime on the water usage to ensure that any leaks are detected and every robot on the slaughter and production line has detectors to measure water consumption. All this information is kept on a database so that checks can be made to keep usage down.

"The higher the production the lower the water consumption per pig," said the company spokesman.

All the water is also recycled after it is cleaned, and any chemicals removed.

Apart from the amount of water used the plant also uses 9KWh per pig in energy and 11KWh per pig in heat.

The singeing process on the line is a typical advance in the technology and planning used on environmental issues. It is enclosed to maintain the heat and reduce the amount of energy needed, and the heat is regenerated in other areas. The new system has produced a 15 per cent energy saving.

In all, the plant manages to regenerate 41 per cent of the heat it produces.

The heat is initially produced through renewable processes, with the waste animal fat from the production line being recycled as biofuel to heat the boilers and the manure sent to biogas plants.

Animal Fats for Biofuels

Danish Crown estimated that, by using animal fat in the boilers instead of fossil fuels, it is achieving a saving of more than 5,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. Now all the Danish Crown slaughterhosuyes are running similar programmes to save energy and water and they are benchmarking themselves against each other.

The waste is transported to a waste disposal system from the line by vacuum. The by-products from the animals are then sent to Daka Biodiesel, which transforms animal fat into biodiesel.

The by-products that are not converted into biodiesel are use for feed.

The company said that most of the environmental challenges are now regarded and treated as part of the daily tasks, such as the treatment of waste and sewage, but it is continually faced with challenges over energy and water usage, noise pollution and odour nuisance as well as issues over transport.

The farmers pay for the transport of the pigs to the plant which is taking animals in around the clock.

Automated Production and Logistics

The automated lairage at Danish Crown's Horsens plant
Picture: Danish Crown

The plant at Horsens has a lairage capacity of 3,400 and the pigs stay in the lairage for about three hours.

In the lairage, the animals are kept in pens of 16 and they are automatically moved through to slaughter after a rest period from transportation. In the lairage, installed like much of the other equipment on the line by the Danish company, SFK, the pigs are inspected by two vets.

The tracking and tracing of the pigs through the plant starts in the lairage where they are identified and batched in the pens.

The plant uses a carbon dioxide stunning system that takes eight pigs at a time. The line speed and the depth of stunning mean that there is a maximum time of three minutes between the stun and the sticking. From the sticking, the blood from the slaughtered animals is taken in batches for other uses – some is put through a centrifuge to separate the plasma.

Steam scalding
Picture: Danish Crown

The carcasses are then hung on a gambrel – each with a unique batch number to identify the pig – and the line automatically passes through a steam scalding system to loosen the hairs.

The Horsens plant uses an Automfom grading system that takes images through the carcass by ultrasound. The grade and weight of the carcass affect the priced the farmer will receive.

The chip on the gambrel is also used to transport the customer orders, taken from an automatic ordering system, and that have been identified to suit the carcass.

Ham cutting line at Horsens
Picture: Danish Crown

After grading, the carcass is transported along the automatic line through an SFK automatic evisceration process. The viscera and the carcasses travel along separate parallel lines at the same speed. Some samples are taken for testing for problems such as trichinella.

Many of the by-products are handled by a Danish Crown subsidiary company, Dat Shaub, which sends any waste from the intestines through to a small biogas production facility.

Some of the intestinal material is cleaned and sent to countries such as China to produce sausage casings.

After the carcass is split, it is chilled at around 5°C for 16 hours before going to the cutting rooms. The factory breaks the carcass down into primals and carries out some partial deboning. The break-down to primals is also carried out automatically using laser technology to guide the machines to the correct cuts. The cutting room has four deboning lines employing skilled butchers, many of whom are from Poland.

The largest market for the cuts from Danish Crown are Japan, Germany and the UK, with some parts also going to China, USA, Sweden, Italy, the Netherlands, South Korea and France.

Some of the products from the Horsens factory also go to the Danish Crown further processing arm, Tulip.

November 2009

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