Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Episode 32 Freezing Works

Episode 32

Freezing Works

This episode of Jay Wont dart's podcast, I talk about Freezing Works, a New Zealand occupation, basically an abattoir or slaughterhouse where the meat is frozen at the end and exported overseas.

Download Episode directly here

My intro was from No Agenda episode 104.

I'll start with a quote.

The meat processing industry is in a constant state
of change. These changes will continue to meet the
requirements of the 21st Century. The meat plant of
100 years hence will probably feature a high degree of
automation. But this will be beyond our lifetime.

If we
focus upon the immediate future the meat plant of the
21st Century will probably incorporate many of the
current trends or developments.
Operating margins will remain small with the
emphasis upon high productivity and enhanced revenue.
We may see the rise of the mega-plant linked with a
national or international network of specialised added
value operations.
The international demand for meat and proteins is
expected to grow. The challenge of the meat plant will
be to meet this demand and produce a range of products
to the exact requirements of the customer.

'In the public eye, the Freezing Worker is one of the
lowest status individuals in our society. A rough,
irresponsible layabout who jeopardises the economy for
sheer greed and goes on strike at the drop of a hat. He
earns high wages for very simple work. He's at a key
point in the economy, responsible for processing one
or our biggest export commodities. He can hold the
country to ransom. So runs the popular myth.
No-one who has not seen what a freezing works is
like, and the kind of jobs freezing workers do is in a
position to criticise. The industry carries mass
production to its extreme. A freezing works is a giant
dis-assembly line along which carcasses and organs roll
with a deadening inevitability while the men scuttle to
keep up. The machine is truly king. A butcher on the
chain must carry out the same operation over and over
again, day after day until the season ends. Not for him
the carpenter's pride in his skill, the watersiders variety
of tasks, the shearers' sense of completing a meaningful
job. Instead endless, mindless, meaningless work, often
standing in the same place all day using a dangerously
sharp knife, surrounded by hundreds of other men doing
the same thing, and by the unedifying sights and smells
of freshly dismembered animals.'

Kerr Inkson of Otago
University, 1977

I had to look up the term Watersider, it means a person who loads and unloads ships, a dock worker.

In Southland , there are a few different Freezing Works, or "The Works", as they are known colloquially. Freezing Works are common in New Zealand rural areas, farmers grow animals like cows, sheep and pigs, and they are sent off to The Works to be killed. When you go past a Freezing Works, they are quite large factory buildings, normally white, and with lots of metal frames outside, where the animals were kept. Trains or trucks will bring the animals in, they will go through pens, to be stunned and then murdered, or in Freezing Works terms, Slaughtered, inside. Their skin is removed for leather, bones are cut and pulled out, heads cut off, tongues cut out, their muscles sold as meat. Their organs are snatched out and thrown in stainless steel trays for inspection, if they are fit for sale, then they are sold for people to eat. Intestines are used as the casings for sausages, the intestines are like socks that get stuffed with low grade meat, to make sausages. I've read that glands are sold, some powdered up and sold overseas as a health thing, some such as testicles, are probably bought in an attempt to spice up the bedroom. In old photos I've seen, you know from the 80's, hairy old men, without gloves on , are wringing out the intestines to make sausage casings, I assume that nowadays they have to wear gloves at least. The intestines go through a wringer, and get washed.

A little about the history of meat exported from New Zealand. Canning of meat was started in 1869 in New Zealand, only the best meat was canned. In 1874, american cooled meat was sent to Britain, natural ice kept the meat cold.

The first ship to carry frozen meat from New Zealand to the United Kingdom was The Dunedin. The Dunedin used 3 tonnes of coal a day, through a steam powered refrigeration machine, to cool The Dunedins hold, down to 4 degrees celsius. The ship was rigged up for refrigeration in 1881, and its first journey, from Oamaru New Zealand, thats in Otago just north of Southland, left for London on the 15th of February, 1882. It took The Dunedin 98 days to arrive, on the 24th of May.

"It is difficult to realise that only about thirty-five years have elapsed since one of the most important of the world's industries was inaugurated, resulting in the enormous and increasing trade of the present day. And yet the whole of this great industry, and to a very great extent the general prosperity and advancement of New Zealand, hangs on the slender piston rod of a refrigerating machine".

M A Elliot The Frozen Meat Industry of New Zealand - NZ Journal of Science and Technology, May 1918.

How the Freezing Works, work.

The animals are brought in, they are

To do this episode, I read a book about the Alliance Freezing Works here in Southland, the books name is A Cut Above, the book came out in 1985, two years before I were born.

A Cut Above was pretty difficult to read in parts, I read it every day at work while the other people around me ate meat, and I had my normal sandwiches. I'd ask questions to my dad, since he worked at Alliance, and he would casually explain things. Theres lots of disgusting sounding jobs, and sections of the Freezing works. Places like " the fellmongery" , which sounds like something from The Lord of the Rings, its where the wool is taken off sheep.

I'll read a few passages that stood out to me.

Just to explain this first quote, from the 1950s until the mid-1970s New Zealand was a highly protected economy

Ok, hearing that nowadays, with our Free Trade Agreements and all, the idea that the government can deny the right of a company to import a crucial device from overseas, it sounds nuts to me! I asked some older friends, and they could agree that it was the right thing to do, "new zealand jobs" and all, but I dont think its a good plan to just ban imported goods, and instead churn out inferior, and more expensive local versions. Imagine if we could only have New Zealand made computers, that had to have every part made in this country, we'd have to spend billions to reinvent every component, and then still be behind! I dont think I'd want to swap my Apple iPhone for a Kiwifruit brand, Choice-as phone, would you?

This part of A Cut Above is about one of many strikes and protests.

I couldnt believe that happened when I read the book, the farmers were angry that the freezing works were overloaded, they couldnt deal with extra sheep at the time, so the farmers were being forced to hold onto their animals for longer than they wanted. The farmers went crazy, in my opinion, and brought the animals right into Invercargill city, from their farms, and set them free in the main streets, I cant imagine what that must have been like to see. Scared sheep were running about on busy roads, I guess the farmers would have been having a great time, laughing as police struggled to control the animals that must have been running in front of cars, and in every direction. The farmers managed to get the sheep under control, they took them somewhere close to the Invercargill prison, they dug ruts in the ground for blood to flow through, and started killing sheep in public, out in front of tv crews. Thats horrible, the animals were made about as scared as possible, running free on city roads having lived on farms all their lives, the police couldnt deal with it, it would be scary for drivers not wanting to hit an animal, all while the farmers would have been enjoying themselves. Then, to start killing the animals in public, they show no respect at all for the lives of the sheep, they wanted to protest by driving into Invercargill, setting them off on the streets, so they did it. They want to kill the sheep, so they get them back ,take them to another public place and kill them out in the open, on camera, just to get attention. What was their complaint? That they had to wait for the freezing works to kill their animals, and they couldnt be bothered having these poor sheep kept alive that long.

One more section from A Cut Above.

"Continued industrial stoppages in the freezing industry had not escaped the notice of the new National Government which had been elected to office on promises of being tough with irresponsible unions. Late in 1976, it was to demonstrate some theoretical muscle when it introduced the Industrial Relations Amendment (No. 3) Act.

The act obliged those in the industry to give three days notice of industrial action, and they faced fines of up to $150 if they did not kill out sock either in a works or in transit before going on strike. The legislation was an abysmal failure. From one end of the country to the other, the provisions of the act were ignored. A chorus of farmer protest grew.

The Alliance company did not escape and February, 1977, saw a foolish stoppage that made a mockery of the law and industrial relations in general. On 8 February, slaughtermen demanded that security in their dining room be improved, so a door leading from their amenities was locked. During the night, the lock was removed and when some workers other than butchers were found in the dining room the next day, the butchers had a meeting and went home. A meeting was held the next day with union officials and an agreement was drawn up about steps to be taken to prevent non-butchers using their dining room, which included re-locking the offending door.

That upset the freezer workers who decided to go on strike until the door was unlocked. There was no discussion with either the company or the union on the matter. Having made their decision, they simply walked out. Later, Jim Barnes learned that freezer workers were in the habit of using the butchers' dining room as an accessway to their own facilities. The company had, of course, provided an alternative entrance but that was marginally further walking distance. A shed meeting of all workers the next day supported the stand taken by the freezer workers and over the weekend, a series of meetings resulted in the disputes committee chairman, Aubrey Begg, being asked to make a decision.

He, in turn, upheld the authority of the union officials to make agreements with the company, thereby deciding in favour of the slaughtermen.

Work started on Monday, 14 February, with six chains in full production, but ended at 3 PM when freezer workers went home saying they would not return until the door was unlocked. The following day, another shed meeting was held and in a secret ballot, the men decided to uphold Begg's decision and work resumed at 2 pm that day. In the meantime, the company had lost 80,000 head of stock and workers about $150,000 in wages over one door.

To cap it all off, no sooner had work started than there was a telephone call to say there was a bomb on the slaughterboard. This meant evacuating the works while management, including Bill Pottinger, Ray Dunn and supervisors fruitlessly searched for any bomb-like object or container. "

And you're back to me talking again, all that talking is making me tempted to rely on Alex again!

To translate that into modern english, Butchers were annoyed that other people, who worked in the freezer section, used their dining room. The Butchers said that their things were being stolen by the freezing guys walking through their area, and they demanded the door to the room be kept locked. They said they would go on strike if the door was NOT locked. The Freezer workers said they would go on strike if the door WAS locked, they walked through that room to get to where they wanted to go. One side would strike no matter what happened with the door. The door ended up being locked, and the freezer workers went on strike. As A Cut Above says, the Freezer workers had another way to get to where they wanted to go, without going through the locked door, but they said it was longer that way, they wouldnt do it. The whole Freezing Works couldnt work properly without all workers, and in the end they "lost 80,000 head of stock", I think that means those animals would be sent out of Southland to another place to be killed, so the Alliance Freezing works didnt get paid for killing those animals since they didnt do it, someone else would have, and all the workers were not working, so they would have lost about $150,000 1977 NZ dollars in lost wages. I dont know what that would be in todays money, but I've been told around that time you could buy a house for 20,000 or so, 20 grand bought a house, and 150,000 didnt get paid out to the workers because they didnt do their work. All over one door!

I have a special invited guest on this episode, my dad, who worked for a long time at a local Freezing works, slaughtering lambs, his job was to open up the sheep around the back legs.

I'm pretty happy he decided to come on my podcast and talk about working in a slaughter house.

“Thine is the task of blood.
Discharge thy task with mercy.
Let thy victim feel no pain.
Let sudden blow bring death;
Such death as thou thyself would ask for.”

The Slaughterman’s Creed

I've prepared a clip from a BBC documentary, Slaughterhouse, a task of blood to play. I found Slaughterhouse on Veg TV, which you can find at veg hyphen, you can probably find it by searching for veg tv. its in my notes also. I downloaded the 500MB clip, which put me over my bandwidth cap for this month, but its worth it. Slaughterhouse is a very personal documentary, it has actual characters in the different slaughtermen, most are 20 something year old guys with awful English smiles, the crooked and broken off teeth were what upset me the most in this documentary. If you have the time, I highly recommend downloading Slaughterhouse, A Task of Blood.

About the pig mentioned in the last part, if I were cruel, I'd leave what what happening to her to your imagination. But, Im a nice guy, so I'll explain it, the pig had escaped from the pens that the animals are kept in, she was running about the parking lot of the abattoir, and she ran out onto the road. I guess in the end they will have gotten her back inside, but its nice to think that she could have been left alone to run off down the road to freedom.

I liked hearing what the workers think, even if I dont agree with how the animals are treated by slaughtermen. It was interesting to hear one of the jewish slaughterers being concerned about the animals wellbeing, and that he even considered himself an animal lover! I dont know how he can say that, and work in a slaughtherhouse, remember, he said that humans are a higher order, we are above animals, so we have the right to kill them, according to him. I dont agree with that at all, I guess its a matter of perception, that a slaughterer could think animals were great, but that we had to eat them and because we are smarter when it comes to making iPods, we have the right to kill cows.

I liked the vegetarian message at the start and finish of Slaughterhouse, A Task of Blood too, I think it makes a compelling point, who would want to eat meat after seeing inside an abattoir? Not me, thats for sure. However, this clip

is a little disheartening if you read into it like I did, I get the point of "ok, im going to leave off the meat" but its not like you have to eat less if you are vegetarian or vegan, taking off a huge steak and being left with just the steamed carrots and mashed potato on the side, now your main course. Have THREE vegetables on your plate! For the price of the corpse, you could buy a much larger amount of vegan food, you could have chocolate for desert afterwards, being vegan has nothing to do with suffering through mealtimes.

I think its reasonable to think that people who eat meat dont want to see how its made so to speak, how the animals are kept, treated, hacked to bits. I like bringing that up anytime someone says something like "you're less of a man now you're vegan", I can pull out my iPhone and show them Earthlings on it, Im quite used to gory slaughterhouse footage now, I'd be willing to beat that the average meat eating person would be more upset to see how meat is made than I am.

Theres a good vegetarian message to be learnt when you've seen inside of an abattoir. You see the truth, how things really are. I'd like to play a clip from Compassionate Cooks, I love Colleens podcast where she talks about being vegan and cooking. If you search iTunes for " compassionate cooks" it will show up, I'll have a link to her website compassionate cooks .com in my notes as well.

Thank you very much for the work you do Colleen, I've donated some money towards the running costs of your podcast.

My friend Sam is a young New Zealand vegan, its always good to find other vegans in New Zealand, especially guys, it breaks down any perceptions that only women are vegan. I'd like to mention Sam's new podcast, NZ Vegan Teen, you can find it on iTunes by searching NZ Vegan Teen. Sam has many websites up, I first came across his anti Dairy site, here is a clip Sam sent me to play on this episode.

You can find Sam on iTunes by searching for NZ Vegan Teen, also is one of Sams pages, nz vegan teen . blogspot . com.

Howard Lyman is a former American Cattle Rancher, a cow farmer in New Zealand terms, who decided to be vegan. Howard used modern chemicals on his farm, in 1979 he was diagnosed with a tumor on his spine. He was told he could be paralysed from the tumor, he vowed to switch to non chemical methods of farming if he beat the cancer. He survived the operation to remove the tumor, and changed his farm into an organic operation. Around 1990, Howard Lyman faced health problems, he became vegetarian and found his health improved. He started looking into Mad Cow Disease, which was affecting Great Britain.

In 1996 Howard Lyman appeared on Oprah Winfrey's show, he made comments that offended the National Cattlemens Beef Association, he basically said "meat is bad for you, bad things are fed to cows, ground up roadkill, pets who have been put to sleep etc, cows dont naturally eat meat, its wrong." Oprah agreed , shocked by what she heard she said she wouldnt eat hamburgers again. The Beef Association was very mad about that, it was a bit like the recent New Zealand Pork scandal, my term for it, with the Pork Board denying that New Zealand pigs are badly treated in factory farming conditions. The Beef association were hurt by the drop in sales, when people find out how meat is brought to their supermarket, they often buy less, at least temporarily. Both Lyman and Oprah were sued, they eventually won the trial. In time Howard became Vegan. I have a clip of Howard Lyman, from one of his speeches,

Im near the end of this episode, so I'd like to thank you for listening now.
If you want to contact me, even just to say you listened, send an email to, j a y w o n t d a r t @, I'd appreciate it. My outro will be the song Meat is Murder, sung live by The Smiths, I heard it and rushed off to buy it on iTunes. I've noticed that iTunes doesnt show my earlier podcast episodes, I have the full set of links to each and every episode on my blog page, , so you can download every one of my episodes.

I'd like to put forth a message to anyone who eats meat and who has listened to this episode, go and see what the inside of a "meat factory" looks like, no matter what its called, an abattoir, a slaughterhouse, or The Freezing Works. Its as simple as typing in " slaughterhouse" or something similar into Google Images, theres no cost or inconvenience to you. Have a look, and ask yourself, "could I work here? Could I cut these animals throats, watching litres of blood come out while they are hung upside down? Could I stand the smell of blood, guts, animal waste?" If you think these places are awful to see, well, why would you pay money for them to stay in business? Why would you want to touch what comes from them, if even the sight is upsetting, the thought is upsetting, the sounds are upsetting, the smell is upsetting, why would you want to eat it?

This beautiful creature must die
A death for no reason
And death for no reason is murder

And the flesh you so fancifully fry
Is not succulent, tasty or kind
Its death for no reason
And death for no reason is murder

Kitchen aromas arent very homely
Its not comforting, cheery or kind
Its sizzling blood and the unholy stench
Of murder

Its not natural, normal or kind
The flesh you so fancifully fry
The meat in your mouth
As you savour the flavour
Of murder

Have a super happy day, bye.

========= meat history intro quote about freezing works

A Cut Above book, 1985

My father, who worked at Alliance Freezing Works! Slaughterhouse, a task of blood documentary

outro song, Meat is Murder by The Smiths, awesome song, go and buy it to support musicians!

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