How an inconspicuous slaughterhouse keeps the world’s premature babies alive

Eric Boodman in Stat News:

STAT-surfactants-final-size-1600x900On the night before his weekly trip into the slaughterhouse, Fraser Taylor stepped into the back of the truck to make sure everything was in place. The hold still smelled faintly of cow — a subtle whiff of something grassy — but the equipment inside seemed better suited to a day of spelunking through the sewers. There were hard hats and hoses and straps. There were huge conical tanks, and a valve-laden contraption that might come in handy for siphoning off the contents of pipes. The truck itself was white. It bore no sign of the company it belonged to or the strange journey it was about to take.

Taylor looked tired. It was almost 5 p.m., there was a snowstorm, and the team was already running late. Snow drifted down into the lights of the loading dock as Taylor slid the truck door shut. The roads would be terrible, just tire marks through slush instead of lanes. They had to go tonight, though. Lateness was not an option on Tuesday mornings. If they didn’t get onto the floor before the cattle started coming by, there would no way to load their equipment in, and they would get none of the precious liquid they’d come to collect.

It’s a substance that most meat processing plants hardly think about: Just another fluid in the fluid-filled business of turning an animal into a side of beef. But Taylor would panic if he saw any spill on the slaughterhouse floor — those lost drops could have saved babies’ lives.

This small firm had carefully courted slaughterhouses so that its workers could be allowed inside to suck this off-white foam out of cow lungs. Then, they purified the hell out of it, and shipped vials of it across Canada, and to India, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Ecuador, and Iran, where it was shot into the lungs of struggling premature infants.

More here.