Visit to World's Largest Pig Plant

by 5m Editor
13 August 2008, at 9:02am

US - Smithfield's facility at Tar Heel is the world's largest pork processing plant and occupies one million square feet. It employs 5,000 people and produces an average of 8 million pounds of meat daily.

Having seen a small slaughterhouse operation, Andrea Weigl of News & Observer wanted to tour Smithfield Packing's plant south of Fayetteville.

She reports that Smithfield Packing Co. has a huge presence in North Carolina. Of the company's 14,000 US employees, 10,000 work at facilities in Tar Heel, Wilson, Kinston, Elon, Clayton and Clinton.

Last year, Smithfield announced it would phase out gestation crates at its farms by 2017. Smithfield's contract farmers will be expected to do the same.

The 2-by-7-foot crates confine sows during their four-month pregnancies. The sows can stand or lie down but not turn around. Animal activists hailed Smithfield's decision and hoped other companies would follow suit.

The pigs are unloaded from tractor-trailers into a series of concrete corrals that hold at most 15,000 pigs for an average of four hours. It is a sea of pink flesh.

One by one, the pigs are guided into one of four gas chambers where seven pigs are killed at once. Gassing causes less trauma for the animals and creates a better product; less muscle constriction means the meat is more tender, says Dennis Pittman, director of corporate communications.

The pigs' bodies are then hung by their feet onto overhead tracks in a sweltering part of the plant that smells of excrement and blood. Jugular veins are cut, and troughs on the floor collect the drainage. To remove hair, the carcasses are dipped in hot water, beaten by paddles inside a machine and enveloped in flames.

From there the pig carcasses proceed along a massive disassembly line: to the head room, the casing room, the chitterlings room, the marination room.

From a viewing area inside one large processing room, you stand above a maze of conveyor belts along which workers wield knives. A line of pig mid-sections rolls by. The loins veer off down one line, ribs are cut out by another line of workers, bacon and skin veer off to their own conveyor belts.

Cardboard boxes about the size of small jacuzzis are everywhere, being filled with up to 2,000 pounds of meat.

All the workers are encased in plastic smocks that come down to their knees. They wear safety helmets, a hair net that covers part of their face, ear muffs and latex gloves.

No human hands touch the meat. Those wielding knives wear belly guards and steel mesh gloves to protect themselves.

The rooms are filled with the rattle and hum of the conveyor belts and the intermittent beeps of the many forklifts moving those jacuzzi-sized boxes of meat.

On this day, hams were headed to Europe, hot dog casings to Korea, bacon to Wilson to be smoked and cured.

Every part of the animal is used: the blood is sold to cosmetics companies; the pancreas and pituitary glands are sold for medical uses; and the parts of the pig not for human consumption become dog food.

Finding other uses for all parts of the pig lowers the price of bacon and hams, Mr Pittman says.

"We're able to offer a quality product at a reasonable price," he says. "If it were not for agribusiness, as I like to call it, they would not be able to do that," concluding the News & Observer report.

5m Editor