Every three seconds is an essay about Pork in Denmark and comments on the Danish pig-meat industry and the culture surrounding it. In this photobook I combined different views and insights on this topic. Where does the pork comes from? Where will it end up? How it surrounds the Danes in their daily life and their general relationship to pork.
Scroll further to read more about pork, Danish Crown, Atherosclerosis & MRSA CC398.
Pork in Denmark
Pork is deeply intertwined with Danish culture. Pigs even appear in thousand-year-old Norse mythology. One is the story of the magical pig Sæhrímnir. Sæhimnir lives in Valhalla, and every night, the gods cut meat off of his body. They cook the pork in a special pot and eat in the majestic hall of Valhalla. Afterwards, the gods bring the boar back to life again, so that every night, the Einherier – the great and fallen heroes – can eat the meat from Sæhrímnir over and over again.
Denmark is among the world’s largest pork exporters. The results of the latest census showed an increase in the number of pigs born in Denmark. In 2013, Denmark produced over 29 million pigs, across 5,000 pig farms. In 2014, production is expected to increase.
According to these numbers, there are roughly five times more pigs than Danes in Denmark.
For over 100 years, pork has been a major source of income for Denmark. It is now an essential component of the Danish economy. In fact, Denmark is a major player in the global pork trade. The Danish Agricultural Council estimates that Denmark’s pork export business represents almost 23 percent of the world’s total pork trade. And pork accounts for seven percent of all exports from Denmark; over half of all agricultural exports.
Around 90% of the Danish-produced pork is exported, to over 140 countries all over the world. The largest markets, in terms of volume, are Germany, the United Kingdom and China.
The pork industry is valued at around 30.5 billion Danish Kroner a year – almost 5 billion Euros.
There are only two major pork production cooporatives – Danish Crown and Tican – remaining in Denmark, down from over 50 in the 1970’s. These two cooperatives are responsible for harvesting and processing all of the the meat from their farmers, who also own small portions of the cooperative as a collective.
Danish Crown is a Danish food company that handles the processing of pork and beef. It is Europe’s largest pork producer, and the world’s largest exporter of pork; supplying pork to customers all over the world. Since 1990, Danish Crown has taken over almost every major slaughterhouse in Denmark.
In Horsens, a little town in eastern Jutland, Danish Crown has its pork processing plant. The facility launched in 2005 and is believed to be one of the largest and most automated slaughterhouses in the world. More than 1,300 people work here, in two shifts, every night and day of the week. The slaughterhouse is only closed between one and four o’clock in the morning, when the whole facility is cleaned.
Here, every weekday 20,000 pigs are slaughtered. That is almost one pig in every three seconds.
The process is as highly-automated as possible to remain profitable in the high-wage country of Denmark. Machines not only calibrate how to set the blades to carve the meat off the bones, but also where the various cuts will bring the highest price. The bacon will be exported to the UK, and the trotters to China.
In effort to remain transparent, the slaughterhouse offers a host of educational activities, including a visitor’s center with guided tours. Tours can be arranged, where visitors – especially schoolchildren – can see every part of the plant and experience pork production, from slaughter to sausage.
Scientist at the University of Aarhus have produced the world’s first genetically modified pig that develops human-like atherosclerosis. The goal of this research is to monitor the waysatherosclerosis presents itself in the body before it can be formally diagnosed, which is unfortutnately usually after death.
Atherosclerosis is a disease in which plaque builds up in the walls of arteries. This plaque consists of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other particles found in blood. Over time, the plaque hardens, causing a narrowing affect in the arteries. This limits the amount of oxygen-rich blood that can flow to vital organs; eventually leading to a heart attack or stroke.
Atherosclerosis is one of the biggest causes of death in the Western world. In 2010, over 14,000 people in Denmark died as a result of Atherosclerosis.
»Atherosclerosis is developing hidden inside our bodies and today we don’t have any good tools to monitor how far the disease has actually progressed,« says Dr. Jacob Fog Bentzon, a lecturer at the Institution for Clinical Medicine at Aarhus University.
»We have drugs that can treat the disease and we have plenty of time to intervene. It should be a dream scenario for prevention, but still this disease is the leading cause of death in the most of the world« says Bentzon. »The major problem is that we may know how to treat that disease, but we don’t know who to treat«.
It is impossible to do research on atherosclerosis outside a living organism, so most prior research has been done on mice. But mice are very different from humans, especially regarding size. Pigs are 86% genetically identical to human DNA, so they are much more useful for comparason than mice.
»We needed something bigger,« Bentzon explains. »We have never had any efficient models before, so we developed a pig model which has high cholesterol atherosclerosis.«
This was done by cloning two Yucatan mini-pigs. A single cell was taken, and an extra gene was added to the genome. In a culture dish, two completely normal – and genetically identical – pigs were created. The pigs are healthy, except that they have high cholesterol. They were fed with high fat diets so they developed atherosclerosis within a year.
According to Dr. Bentzon, the atherosclerosis that the pigs develop is similar to atherosclerosis developed in humans by the age of 40, or a slightly older.
»It is not at a stage where it causes any symptoms, but it is very useful when you want to develop techniques to visualize this disease in the body,” he says, “for example, with CT-scanners. This is one of the great challenges within atherosclerosis,«
Jacob Fog Bentzon wants to show the potential of swine in the medical healthcare arena. He hopes that the fully-developed pig model will be used to accelerate research on imaging technologies, innovations in devices inside blood vessels, and discoveries regarding treatment, life-style factors, and drug therapy. Today, the main treatment for atherosclerosis is a lifestyle change by controlling risk factors like physical activity, smoking and an unhealthy diet.
Everywhere around the world, antibiotics are used in commercial pork production. They are necessary to treat, prevent and control diseases spread between animals living in high volumes and small industrialized environments.
Denmark has one of the lowest rates of veterinary antibiotic use among countries where usage data is collected. The problem, even in Denmark, is that when one pig gets sick, the whole flock gets medicine.
In testimony given within the City Council of Aarhus on Tuesday, the 6th of May 2014, it was reported for the first time that three Danes have died from swine bacteria. The bacteria is resistant to multiple antibiotics and is spreading to more and more pig farms. None of the deceased were in direct contact with the disease-spreading animals or had any connections to pig farming.
The bacteria is a special strain of MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, (also known as Mercer) called CC398. It is usually found in pig stalls and it becomes dangerous when pigs have been given a high amount of antibiotics. Over time, as the bacteria regenerate and mutate, they can develop a resistance to the antibiotics that have been ineffectively used as treatment. This makes it extremely difficult to treat human infections afterwards.
In early 2014, two journalists published the names of twelve MRSA infected pig farms. Instead of the pig farms being shut down or evaluated for their risk of spreading the disease, the two journalists were accused of passing private health data to the public – which is illegal in Denmark. (violation of the Personal Data Act.) The published information was not about certain individuals, but about companies that are required to inform their workers about MRSA.
According to official estimation, around 1,500 to 2,000 farms in Denmark are infected; as well as nine out of ten pigs at every slaughterhouse; with bacteria that can’t be knocked down or destroyed with medicine. This is a heavy increase over the past two years, despite attempts to stop the spread of MRSA. This is especially alarming considering the fact that strains of the resistant bacteria have now been found in people who have no connection to the swine industry.
Text by Felix von der Osten