Brazil Study Abroad - Meat Packing Plant (06/01/16)

This morning, we went to a beef packing plant called JBS. I have very little beef background and had never been to a meat packing plant before. When we got there, we had a fantastic breakfast while we learned a little bit about the plant. After that, we put on some marshmallow suits that were white and clean. We got some boots and a helmet and a very thick sweatshirt that I (and several others) wished we could bring home with us because they would be perfect for Iowa winters. After we all got dressed and took a group picture, we started the tour of the plant itself.

We started with the end of the process and ended at the beginning with the newly slaughtered cattle and then the holding pens in order to keep from spreading microbes from the dirtier parts to the cleaner parts. We started by looking at boxes containing the meat-the final product being shipped out. Then we moved on to where they loaded the boxes and then where they vacuum packed the meat. After that, we saw the carcasses in the refrigerators hanging on hooks like we do in the meat lab. However, because these carcasses were primarily from Nelore cattle, they were much larger than the ones we normally see in Iowa. We then watched the workers cutting the meat from the bones and learned that the bones and fat and any other waste products were ground up and used in animal feed. Moving on from there, we began to see slightly more bloody parts of the animals such as skinned heads moving past us on hooks. We then started to see whole carcasses being skinned and having some of the parts removed such as the gastrointestinal tract and hooves. Then we went to the room where the newly slaughtered cattle were hung on hooks and then drained of blood. We then washed off our boots again and went outside to the holding pens. Those are different that in the US because they are required to feed the animals before slaughter instead of fasting them.

Personally, this was not my favorite stop of the trip. I had previously seen American feedlots and cow/calf operations, as well as those in Brazil. I had also seen the carcasses hanging in the meat lab for classes, so that doesn't bother me. However, the part that began to get to me was the newly slaughtered cattle because I had never seen an unskinned dead bull before. That, combined with the sheer volume of blood that the animals contain, made me feel a little odd.

While I appreciate the value of seeing the slaughterhouse and understanding how it works, I do not feel that I would be able to do that job for my entire life. I did find it very interesting that there were a lot of workers compared to the machines that we use in the United States. The entire trip, in my opinion, was very valuable in learning how the horse and beef industries are similar and different than we are used to in the US, and I am glad I had the experience.