A slaughter plant is a facility where animals are slaughtered and the first steps in the meat packing process take place. Slaughter plants, also known as abbatoirs or slaughterhouses, are found all over the world, with the largest known facility, in Tar Heel, North Carolina, belonging to Smithfield Foods. Slaughterhouses handle a wide variety of animals used for food in various regions of the world, including pigs, geese, ducks, chickens, cattle, turkeys, goats, sheep, and horses.
A typical facility includes holding pens for animals waiting for slaughter, and a “killing floor” where animals are stunned to render them unconscious and then bled out. Stunning is required by law in some regions of the world in response to concerns about animal welfare. Once bled out, the carcasses can be processed and inspected by health inspectors who confirm that the meat is safe to eat. Meat can also be graded by inspectors and slaughter plant personnel to determine how it can be labeled and sold.
There are some specialized types of slaughter plant. A community slaughter house may operate on a much smaller scale, providing a location for farmers to bring animals to a butcher when they require slaughtering of only a few animals. Some butchers also operate mobile abbatoirs, which they drive to the farm where the animals are raised so that they can be processed on site.
Kosher and halal slaughterhouses handle animals in accordance with religious laws. Both kosher and halal facilities have an exemption to the law requiring stunning, and the facility may be supervised by a religious authority or officiant who confirms that the slaughterhouse is run properly. Meat from such slaughter plants can be more expensive, as the kosher or halal certification process requires more work.
Organic meat may also be handled at separate slaughter plants to avoid confusing organic and conventionally produced meat during slaughtering and processing. Specialty slaughter plants are required to conform with the health code, like their conventional counterparts, and they are subject to surprise inspections from government representatives who can assess conditions in the slaughter house. Inspectors may also audit the slaughter plant to confirm that it is truly organic, kosher, or halal.
Historically, many cities had at least one slaughter plant, and cities like Chicago had a large number, reflecting the fact that the city served as a railroad hub where numerous animals could be shipped for slaughter and processed meat could be shipped back out. This trend has changed, as members of the public are often averse to having slaughter plants near their neighborhoods because of the noise and smell. This had led to the emergence of colossal meat plants in centralized locations, rather than smaller facilities handling limited numbers of animals and scattered across a region.