Behind-the-scenes look inside one of the world's
biggest slaughterhouses by Alastair Philip Wiper

| 25 comments
 

Photo essay: British photographer Alastair Philip Wiper toured the interior of one of the largest slaughterhouses in the world to create this series of images documenting how pigs are turned into pork, sausages and bacon (+ slideshow).

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.

Wiper says he "finds it difficult to tolerate those who love eating meat, but cannot bear to think about, or look at, the slaughter and death of that animal", so each image in the Danish Crown Slaughterhouse is intended to reveal the entire butchering process, made visible by the transparency and openness of the spaces.


I am not a squeamish person. I love food, I love meat, and I particularly love pork. In an ideal world, we would all get our meat from the guy in our village whose family has lovingly cared for their animals over generations, given the animals the best possible life, fed them only the best food, read them a bed-time story every night and given them kilometres of space to roam free in before being humanely and ceremoniously slaughtered by the patriarch of the family. 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.

Danish Crown Slaughterhouse photography by Alastair Philip Wiper

The reality is that the society we live in craves meat, on a massive scale. Where there is a demand there will be a supply, and finding out how that supply is met is something that all meat-eaters should be interested in. As a food lover, I am firmly of the belief that people should think about, understand and respect their food (that includes vegetables!) and part of that respect is rooted in where the meat on your plate comes from and how it died. I find it difficult to tolerate those who love eating meat, but cannot bear to think about, or look at, the slaughter and death of that animal. It seems disrespectful towards the animal, and if I wanted to get really eggy about it, I'm not sure if such people should be allowed to eat meat at all. So it was with great anticipation that I looked forward to my visit to the Danish Crown slaughterhouse in Horsens, touted as "the most modern slaughterhouse in the world".

Danish Crown is the world's largest exporter of pork, supplying pork to customers all over the world; 90 percent of the pork slaughtered in Denmark is exported, with the UK being the biggest market. Completed in 2004, the slaughterhouse at Horsens kills approximately 100,000 pigs per week, making it one of the largest in the world. There are 1,420 people employed there, and the slaughterhouse receives around 150 visitors per day.

Danish Crown Slaughterhouse photography by Alastair Philip Wiper

The slaughterhouse has been designed with openness in mind; a viewing gallery follows every step of the production, from the pigs arriving, to the slaughter itself, to the butchering and packaging. I was genuinely surprised at the level of openness at the plant; Danish Crown wants to invite people in and say "look, this is how we do it".

The first part of the process is called the "black" slaughter line, and is in stark contrast with the minimalist, office-like corridors that surround the slaughtering area. We started off in the space where the pigs arrive - holding pens where up to 3,800 pigs (3 and a half hours worth of slaughtering) will sit for 1-2 hours before they are slaughtered. "Listen to that" says my guide, Agnete Poulsen. "Listen to what?" I think. "There are thousands of pigs in here, and you can hardly hear a sound. Have you ever heard the noise that ten pigs can make? It's incredible. These are very calm pigs, and that’s the way we want them to be. This room has been designed to calm the pigs down before they go into the slaughterhouse. If the pigs are stressed when they are killed, the quality of the meat will not be so good."

Danish Crown Slaughterhouse photography by Alastair Philip Wiper

From there, the pigs are gently herded in small groups by a series of moving walls into a gas chamber, where they are rendered unconscious by C02 gas. A minute later, they tumble out of the chamber on to a conveyor belt from where they are strung up by their legs before being stuck in the carotid artery and bleeding to death.

The pigs continue on their journey along a long line, strung up by their legs. They disappear into a cabinet, where an automatic saw chops their body in half. Then a series of workers remove different organs from each side of the body - one lucky guy's job is to remove the brain, the next one the heart, and so on. Needless to say, there is a lot of blood. As I mentioned earlier, I believe it is important to understand how an animal is butchered, and even try it yourself; but, I think to myself, I couldn't do this for a living. "Do you psychologically profile the guys who do these jobs? How do you know they won't crack up after a couple of weeks?" I ask Agnete. "Not at all" she replies. "They get used to it very quickly. You would too. We don’t force people to do this, they are happy to do it. It’s an honest job."

Danish Crown Slaughterhouse photography by Alastair Philip Wiper

All of the organs collected in this process move on to different sections of the plant where they will be processed further – there is always a part of the world where something we don’t eat here is a delicacy. From the "black" slaughter line, the pigs are hung for 16 hours in a refrigerated room, before moving on to the next line for general butchering by hand, then packaging, before being loaded on to trucks and whizzed off to far-flung places. 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.

The slaughterhouse at Horsens was truly one of the most fascinating places I have visited on my travels. It is an experience that will leave a mark on my daily life, and help me to understand, just a little, about another important aspect of my food. As you can probably tell, this is not an in-depth exposé of an industry, and my experience is not enough to knowledgeably critique the process of delivering Danish Crown bacon to your breakfast table; nor can I account for the processes of Danish Crown outside what I saw in Horsens. But I was pleasantly surprised by the openness of the plant about its operations and methods, and it is clear that when they designed the slaughterhouse they were thinking ahead in terms of what consumers will want to see from food producers: more transparency.

Danish Crown Slaughterhouse photography by Alastair Philip Wiper

And while I can't comment on the conditions of the lives of the pigs before they get to the slaughterhouse (the vast majority of which come from Denmark), I can only make an educated guess that, through my own experience as a resident of Denmark, the laws that govern the treatment of pigs would be about as strict or stricter as they would be anywhere else in the world. Anyone with any knowledge on that would be welcome to chip in. I am happy to admit that I finished my tour with a sausage in the canteen.

  • Lior

    The real reality is not that our society is carving meat, but we’re educated to learn that animals are food which they are not. We are taught to love dogs and cats but hate cows, chickens, pigs etc. All the society eats is dead animals that were produced and killed for one reason only and it is to make money.

    The meat industry killing us, killing the animals and killing our planet. There is no ‘humane killing’. That phrase is a marketing phrase. If there is a humane killing, is it also correct to say that there is a humane rape? Humane assault? Do you really think that the animals had their belly rubbed before they got slaughtered? A slaughterhouse is a house of slaughter! Shame on you.

    • James

      Surely this article raises consumer awareness to the processes behind the meat they purchase. An informed consumer can make informed decisions about what they eat. This kind of article and exploration is necessary and important. Simply decrying the issue will never change a thing.

      • lior

        It doesn’t raise awareness because awareness can’t be created by beautiful pictures that do not show the truth behind this industry. The reality is that the animals are all tortured, scared, suffer and sick during their lives and that’s what we eat. The meat, dairy eggs etc give us nothing but heart disease and cancer.

        I read that every two seconds there is a child dying of starvation in the world, but how come a cow or a pig will never misses a meal.

        75% of the agricultural land is used to feed the animals for the meat industry. Each person wastes five million litres of water just to water the animal and their crops. We are killing 150 billion animals every single year just for the food industry, which does not include furniture, shoes etc.

        It is killing us, killing the animals and
        killing the planet and therefore this article doesn’t raise any debate if the author gave his own conclusion in the end.

        How can anybody find this acceptable?

        • Max

          Heart disease and cancer is caused by low fat, high carb diets, lifetimes spent in office chairs, no exercise, smoking, drinking sodas and beer and then stressing out over not feeling or looking as good as you think you are automatically supposed to.

          What´s needed is effectiveness, vertical farms and more productive crops, and we need to realise that we can eat more than the loins, flank and rump of animals. The organs, bone marrow, cartilage, ears, snouts, hearts, livers, kidneys, skin and fat layers, all of this is totally eatable but people find it yucky, which is a very negative and unappreciative way to approach the things we could eat.

          Kids die and starve not because we feed pigs and cows properly, but because of their entire political, religious and socioeconomic situation around them is messed up. So many factors go into this, you´re basically insulting them by saying what you are saying.

    • Tony

      The amount of meat we consume has risen to such a horrendous amount that this is why it got very
      counterproductive for our planet. I don’t eat meat but I don’t think we as humans have to deny it as “food” yet. Although I agree, to me it’s just unnatural to view an animal as a choice of meal.

      The problem with meat is it got so cheap that everyone wants to consume it daily at best – even twice a day although it’s unhealthy. And if our society keeps viewing and valuing it as a status symbol of power, dominance and wealth change sadly won’t occur no matter if the awareness of the process has increased.

      The first thing we could do is at least eat less meat and seeing that our yearly consumption of meat has more than doubled should give us enough food for thought.

    • Xnt

      Different people, different opinions. I consider keeping pets the same as slaughtering animals. All cruelty to me. Let people who want to eat meat do it.

    • H-J

      If people wouldn’t eat pigs, there wouldn’t be any. Is that what you want, a world without pigs?

      • lior

        We don’t eat dogs, cats, bears, kangaroos, lizards, snakes, crocodiles. They seem to live, no?

        • Concerned Citizen

          Limited horizons, there. Someone eats everyone of those animals. Kangaroo, lizards, snakes, and crocodiles are sold as food in the USA. Asians eat dogs and cats. Bears, I don’t know about.

        • Pipo

          False Lior, where I’m from Havana, Cuba, meat is strictly rationed and people do eat cats. By the way the land was over cropped as a result of the government basically controlling the amount of meat the people could consume and what ended up happening was that their wasn’t enough land to sustain the demand thus people starved.

        • Antonio

          Actually, apart from cats and bears many people eat those animals. Not on a daily basis I hope!

  • lior

    Which animals kill just for the sake of killing? And is it justification for us to kill 150 billion a year?

  • lior

    “To eat your steak”? Is that what you said? Is it my steak or is it a dead animal that wanted to live?

  • Yader

    Jane Goodall, an amazing scientist, observed chimps hunting and eating other animals in the wild. It’s been shown that certain chimp communities eat as much as one ton of meat annually. In other words, they’re less indulging occasional cravings than they are taking part in the chimpanzee equivalent of Man V. Food.

    Not only that, but they apparently use the slaughtered meat to gain a reproductive and social political advantage over one another. So our evolutionary cousins love a good steak so much they’ll literally whore themselves out to get it. This is a fact. It happens in the natural world so why do we conveniently choose to ignore it when part of having an open mind means to evaluate and differentiate fact from fiction in both both sides of the argument?

  • Ben

    Sorry, I understand it now, the comma threw me off.

  • Lior

    I’m sorry, I didn’t mean too. Publishing slaughter as a beautiful thing was a bit difficult for me.

  • Chris

    “I find it difficult to tolerate those who love eating meat, but [who also] cannot bear to think about, or look at, the slaughter and death of that animal.” i.e. The author isn’t the one who cannot bear to think about the slaughter.

  • Animal Lover

    As a vegetarian and a designer I feel offended that beautifying such an atrocious process is presented here. You are showing a minimal part of the entire process. The reality is far worse.

  • ichbinkunst

    “I find it difficult to tolerate those who love eating meat, but cannot bear to think about, or look at, the slaughter and death of that animal. It seems disrespectful towards the animal, and if I wanted to get really eggy about it, I’m not sure if such people should be allowed to eat meat at all.”

    This whole argument is completely dubious and a cheap shortcut to wash his consciousness clean of any moral second thoughts. How can he mention “respect” of the animal when the whole process is to kill it? Secondly, if he were to push his “moral” logic about being consequent with ones actions, he should have to “bear to think about and look at the slaughter and death” of EVERY animal he eats (if not slaughter it himself).

    I am not a vegetarian myself, but these kind of half-baked morals piss me off.

  • Miss Piggy

    Looks very clean.

  • lior

    Did you hear about TED talks? It is all there mate:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STdSfeMDeI4

  • Simon

    The phrasing of the second para that you quote is the problem.

    The writer means that he can’t tolerate the people who a) love eating meat, and b) cannot consider the origin of that meat.

    But he writes it as if he a) can’t tolerate the people who love eating meat and b) can’t bear to think about etc.

    I had to read it three times before I understood.

  • Alastair Philip Wiper

    Dear all, this is Alastair, the photographer and author of the article. Since this post has gone out into the big wide world, it has stirred up a lot of debate and some sensitive feelings. If I had been more critical in my tone, and had more negative points to make about the slaughterhouse, it might have been a lot easier for some people to take – but my approach was to be as neutral as possible and say what I saw from a layman’s perspective – and that is what I have done. However, I would like to clarify a couple of points:

    – I am working from the perspective of my personal decision that I think eating meat is OK. I know that not everybody agrees with that, but we are all welcome to our own point of view. Furthermore, I am not espousing a moral ideology about understanding how an animal dies in order to be able to eat it – I am just giving my opinion – other opinions are available. Everyone is entitled to their own relationship to the food they eat, and the world of culinary delights is a beautiful, fun, disturbing, controversial melting pot of a place. I just think it’s a good thing if people think about where their food comes from – and this series is intended to give just a tiny glimpse into one very small part of the origins of some of our food. Of course, the treatment of the animals during their lifetime is as important if not more important than the way it dies, and I would encourage anyone to find out more about this process – but this is not what the piece is about. It seems strange to some people to talk about “respecting” an animal if you are going to kill, or are killing it. As I have made a conscious decision to eat meat, something I spent some time thinking about, I believe that there are good and bad ways to treat an animal during it’s lifetime and death. Using as much of the animal as possible, from the nose to the tail, as they do in the plant at Horsens, is also an important part of that respect.

    - Believe it or not, I spent seven years as a vegetarian, between the ages of 17 and 24. It taught me a lot about food, and cooking, and when I began to eat meat again I was very cautious. As much as I love it, I still do not eat a lot of meat, and I avoid processed food about 99% of the time. I would like to say that I only eat the best meat all the time, but I’m sure that now and then something slips by – I like a hot dog every once in a while, and if you ever eat out you can rarely be sure where that meat has come from. I have to live with that to a certain extent. However, food should be something we enjoy and something that don’t get too bogged down with. Food can be taken too seriously sometimes, and then (at least for me) it stops being fun – but it is important that there is balance and awareness out there as well, and a consumer push towards doing things the right way.

    - This series does not show the whole process at the plant. The really bloody parts – the death and the disembowelling – I was not allowed to photograph, because Danish Crown was concerned about the anonymity of the workers in those sections. However, I did see them, and they are part of any normal public tour of the plant. While being hard to stomach (excuse the pun), the process looked like I imagined it to look – a bloodbath. How can you kill 100,000 pigs a week without that?

    - I’m sorry, Morrissey.

    • James

      I have to congratulate you on this photo essay. You have triggered a healthy discussion. People should be aware of where their food comes from and all of the industrial logistics that enables meat to be so widely available.

      I think by capturing part of the process in a neutral way, you’ve allowed people to react against your work and discuss what they feel is the reality. Perfect trigger to debate.

      I would love to see a photo essay by you that explores the welfare of animals before they end up in the slaughterhouse. It would be interesting to see an uncompromising but neutral perspective on this.

      Again, congratulations.

  • Architect

    Haha, I love it when a single person takes over the entire comment section and replies to every comment that anyone makes.