A chain of gutted pigs moves along a conveyor belt supported from the ceiling, swaying from the sudden stops and starts of machinery. Watery blood from the gaping hole in the pigs' stomachs drips down their back legs, forming a red stream into a nearby floor drain. The carcasses had just been cleaned, hairy bristles glistening in the fluorescent factory lights, but the animals seemed filthy to me. I averted my eyes by looking down at my shoes, which I had just wrapped in white plastic. They were already maroon.
The Agrosuper factory tour guide had spared me the gruesome aspects of the Chilean pork industry, using an animated powerpoint to explain the slaughterhouse procedures starting from a truck full of pigs to the multiple sanitation measures used in their slaughter. The animals have a relaxing two hour hot shower before being humanely gassed and passed through a series of steps that make them less and less animal. By the time they are gutted and hung on the conveyor belt by their front legs, they are pork.
During the factory presentation that morning, my tour guide assured us that the pigs did not suffer. They did not bleed until after death and they were not cut up until after they had bled. The tour guide happily gave statistics about the chemistry of the toxic gas and the water temperatures of each washing. Eight thousand two hundred pigs are slaughtered per day. No evidence proved that the pigs did not suffer. How does one determine the pain levels of a sentient creature that cannot communicate with us?
In the presentation room I donned a plastic hairnet, long buttoned jacket, and galoshes. I scoured my hands with hot water and stepped on an electric-powered scrub at the threshold to the production rooms. Soothed by the scent of soap and comforted by the clean attire, I was unprepared for what confronted me in the next room.
Rows of stacked conveyor belts compartmentalize the pork products. Heads roll by at eye level. Above them are slabs of red meat with varying amounts of white fat. In another part of the main room, ears pass by at a rapid speed since that part of the pig is not as valuable as others. Hooves move at a similar pace. A select group of women handle the most prized cuts, each one color checked to meet Asian market standards before the meat passes onwards.
Agrosuper exports sixty percent of their meat, with seventy percent of that going to Asia. Even though the Chileans do not enjoy most of the pork processed in the factory, the workers I pass seem connected to their product. Everyone greets me amiably as they handle stretch hoses, cleave pig parts, or separate the impure meats from the conveyor belt. Men whiz by in small cars, lifting packages and transporting them to other areas. The women make jokes and analyze the newest fashion trends with each other while scrutinizing pork chops.
"You look so sad," my tour guide remarks, touching my shoulder.
"I'm okay," I assure her. The face mask hides my tears and labored breathing. When I clutch at my ribcage, it is because I feel nauseated. It is not from the drop in temperature, colder than the winter wind outside to preserve the meat.
After the tour, the tour guide passes out baseball caps with the slogan "Agrosuper Alimenta," Agrosuper feeds. I keep it to remind myself how I witnessed my nightmare and walked out of it, hands raw from washing them three times in a futile attempt to forget the shreds of discarded skin and crinkly fat, and the constant rolling of pork parts.