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What is a Packing Plant?

By Harriette Halepis
Updated May 17, 2024
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A meat packing plant is a facility where animals are processed and distributed to buyers from across the globe. Packing plants within North America have been around since the early 1900s when the refrigerated railway car made it possible to send meat to distant locations. Throughout the rest of the world, various forms of packing plants can be found.

In most instances, animals are not slaughtered inside of packing plants. Abattoirs are separate facilities that exist solely for the slaughtering of livestock. Once an animal has been slaughtered, it is then sent to a meat packing plant. Working conditions inside of these plants can often be treacherous, though these conditions have improved since the 1900s. Author Upton Sinclair wrote a book in 1906 entitled The Jungle that detailed packing plant conditions in Chicago.

Once Sinclair's book had been read, the public began to insist on better working conditions for packing plant employees. In the 1930s, in the United States, workers were able to band together to form the United Packinghouse Workers of America. This union took control of working conditions, wages, and other important details.

When the 1960s rolled around, the United Packinghouse Workers of America saw its member numbers drop drastically. As a result, the original meat packers union was transformed into the Amalgamated Meat Cutters union. In 1975, the Amalgamated Meat Cutters union joined forces with the Retail Clerks International Union to form the United Food and Commercial Workers union. This union still exists in the United States and Canada protecting more than 1.3 million workers across North America from unjust working conditions.

There are various types of meat packing plants including kosher and halal plants. In accordance with Jewish law, animals killed inside of a kosher packing plant must be slaughtered by one knife cut to the throat. Similarly, Islamic law states that animals must be slaughtered by one cut to the throat area.

Both halal packing plants and kosher packing plants are similar, but the two cannot be interchanged according to religious laws. Both halal and kosher facilities must be separate from any other packing plant. While most people throughout the world purchase meat that comes from a large industrial packing plant, more and more people are beginning to seek farm-killed meat products. The main difference between a farm-killed animal and packing plant meat is that farm-killed animals are slaughtered at the farm where they were raised. This type of meat is never sent to a plant for processing.

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