February 08, 2006

Buy Danish Pork

Its Automatic!
The Danes have put lots of thought into their Welfare State. You have to hand it to them, having to rationalize the added costs of their cheesy Utopia at every turn. Their agricultural economy is dominated by the co-operative plan, which got it's start during the same restless decades that produced Das Kapital.

The industry that produces fine Danish Crown hams and other pork products of Denmark is a vertically integrated co-operative in which the farmers own the whole business from farm field to shipping dock. As you might expect, the Danish Welfare State extends it's promise of cradle-to-grave care not just to people, but to it's farm animals as well. Thus, one of the added costs the Danish farmers need to rationalize is the added cost of keeping their hogs happy. In the USA, we allow the consumer to decide if they want to buy (and pay more for) meat from happy pigs. Just ask the butcher at Wild Oats. We can still get cheaper pork chops, cut from presumably more depressed pigs raised under drearier conditions.

The old feeder was surprised to see how automated the Danish hog production has become. As a student at Iowa State University, I did a stint as the janitor at the ISU Meat Lab. They had a small kill floor and processed all sorts of livestock. Not only did I learn to sharpen knives from the cats there, but I got a real appreciation for how our cuts of meat land up in our stores. That was 'way over 30 years ago; how times have changed!

At ISU the hogs went right from the trucks into a pen on the kill floor, where the hapless creatures could see and smell their pals getting stunned by a pneumatic hammer or electric shock, hoisted by their heels and 'stuck' right in the neck. The hogs would nervously maneuver to avoid being the next selectee. Unlike cattle, which always seemed to be rather blasé at the prospect of being butchered, the hogs reacted more like I would in the same circumstances. The subsequent steps, eviscerating, hair removal, splitting and cutting were time consuming and looked to me like hard work.

In the new Danish hog production facilities the whole business is not only designed to comfort and relax the hogs in their last hours, but the slaughterhouse workers are largely replaced by robotics. The hogs go into a lairage system, where they are allowed to relax from their transport. By law, the doomed pigs must be allowed or encouraged to move in happy little groups of their own free will through the pen system until the group is unwittingly lowered by elevator into a 'room' full of carbon dioxide. Hogs are even bred to have a gene that keeps them from smelling or being irritated by the gas. The idea is: less struggling equals better meat.

Once the hogs are stunned, their work is finished. Robots do almost everything else besides final cutting and inspection. The automated steps include:
  • Automatic bung cutter, throat cutter and ham divider
  • Automatic carcass opener
  • Automatic evisceration
  • Automatic back finning (pre-cutting of loins)
  • Automatic back splitting
I couldn't find a picture of the bung cutter, but most of the other steps are pictured in this fine article about Danish Crown's big plant in Horsens, Denmark. (Just click the small pictures in the right column.) Fascinating, no?
One other thing I couldn't help notice that sets the Danish hog facilities apart from our own meat packing houses was the apparent lack of 'people of color' working there. All the folks in the pictures look to be, well, Danish. And I don't mean to include the browner, more towel-headed Danes you see in the news these days. I guess there are some jobs the Mohammedans just won't take. This is the opposite of what we find here in America, where our packing plants are staffed in significant numbers by immigrants from south of the border. Mexicans, mostly, taking those jobs whiter folks just don't want. So, if you want pork products untouched by brown hands, buy Danish Crown.
The blood of Danes has been declared Halal by some fundamentalist Mohammedans. At least the Danish hogs need never worry about having their throats cut while conscious as Halal slaughter requires !

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