Slaughter, Harvest, and Implications of the New Diction


slaughter Look up slaughter at Dictionary.comc.1300, “killing of a cattle or sheep for food, killing of a person,” from O.N. *slahtr, akin to slatr “a butchering, butcher meat,” slatra “to slaughter,” and slattr “a mowing;” related to sla “to strike” (see slay), from P.Gmc. *slukhtis. Meaning “killing of a large number of persons in battle” is attested from mid-14c. The verb is from 1530s. (Source:

Intentionally Changing Language

In the last two decades many of those directly involved in agriculture, as well as those who like write or report on agricultural happenings or issues, have decided to change the English language.  Not by inventing new words LOL OMG, rather, the changes have been in the form of modified definitions.  There are many examples of this, including the often criticized broad-spectrum use of various label claims.

Examples of this include factually wrong statements such as “hormone-free” or loosey-goosey interpretations of “natural.”  “Sustainable” can probably be added to that list, too, if perhaps only for the different synonyms (again, usually wrongly) associated with it.  Frequently, those involved in or supportive of contemporary agriculture dismiss label claims as unnecessary simply because the product is not superior to “unnatural (?)” items in any way other than a few words on the label.  This redefinition of words has been done in the interest of marketing.

Slaughter is Harvest is Process, Somewhow

While many can agree that the deliberate altering of word meanings for the sake of marketing is sometimes understandable but usually meaningless, there is one pesky word for which there are two different schools of thought about its appropriateness.  Slaughter.  There are people who simply call it slaughter because, well, that is what it is.  And, there are the others who have decided, somehow, that the word “slaughter” is simply too much for consumers to handle and have decided that the “correct” term to be used in place of slaughter is harvest.  Both thought processes have some justification behind them, perhaps.

One words means to kill an animal for use as food and the other word means to gather crops from the field.  Which one sounds like the one that applies to farm animals that will become meat?

Instead, we now “harvest” livestock at “processing plants.”  It has been argued that slaughtering animals in slaughterhouses is too graphic.  This brings up many interesting points regarding word use and assumptions regarding what “consumers” find acceptable.

Implications of the New Diction

  • Currently, we harvest pigs, cattle, chickens, corn, soybeans and hay.  Yet, we milk cows and shear sheep.  In a dilutive effort to make agricultural terms more palatable, perhaps we should have milk harvesting parlors on dairy farms and wool harvesters should replace sheep shears.
  • There is a general frustration within some agricultural circles that “consumers” do not have an understanding or appreciation for where their food comes from, and I certainly understand this perspective.  To garner better understanding, perhaps, terms suited (or even created for that specific process) should be used to described what is happening at various stages of the food production system.
  • Glossing over the fact that animals die certainly does not help achieve any sense of transparency within agriculture.  If one cannot accept this fact then perhaps meat is not for them.  By renaming the slaughter process to “harvesting” there might appear to be an intentional effort to disconnect people from this fact.
  • Harvesting and processing (at least in my mind) of animals sounds rather industrial, as in “I just sent a load of livestock to the processing plant.”  All the while there is much frustration within contemporary agriculture caused by the phrase “factory farm.”  Well, when the “correct” term of “processing plant” is used to describe the fate of the “crop,” that sounds pretty factory-ish to me.

Where we Are

This semantic blindfolding has crept up quite a bit in the last week among my colleagues and friends.  Last week a friend of mine presented some data to a group of agribusiness salespeople and used the term “slaughter” in the presentation.  My friend was then told that she *must* change the term slaughter to harvest because that is such an unsavory term.  Mind you, this was a presentation directed to vendors of livestock feeds.

Another friend of mine decided to post photos of on-farm beef slaughter to her blog as part of her “ranch life” photography series.  Simply, livestock ranches and “ranch life” would not exist if there is no death of something.  She was contacted by a beef organization and essentially chastised for posting images that would (in a somewhat decisive tone) turn people away from eating beef.  Was there a beef market crisis the day after Oprah aired her video tour inside a cattle slaughterhouse?  Nope. And, Oprah even called it a slaughterhouse!

A few months ago I posted a picture of a steer being exsanguinated or “bled” during the slaughter process and asked for feedback.  I received about 100 responses, some in favor and some against posting such a picture.  One observation I made is that those who have not been somehow indoctrinated into what is “agriculturally p.c.” said that I needed to posted, that such imagery is what they wanted to see.  Conversely, those directly tied to agriculture told me that it was “too much” for consumers (a.k.a., the the people who wanted to see it and saw it) could handle.

Slaughter Beach, Delaware. Would renaming it to "Harvest Beach" help with tourism? Probably not.

10 thoughts on “Slaughter, Harvest, and Implications of the New Diction

  1. I first tripped across “Harvest” as a euphemism about 12 years ago when I was visiting a friend in western Iowa. He was in the hog business and had a new slaughtering plant. We talked for a while in his office and then he asked, “Would you like to see my harvesting facility?” I looked out the window at a field of corn across the road and asked, “You own that corn, too?” It took us both a minute to get back on the same page.

  2. Never heard “harvest” ’til I entered social media. Didn’t have a freakin’ clue what they were talking about. We have a slaughterhouse. The farmers call it a slaughterhouse. The shoppers call it a slaughterhouse. The newspaper calls it a slaughterhouse. Everybody calls it a slaughterhouse. When a local (or visitor) refers to it as harvest, it is a surefire sign to me what circle they run in. Normally, we’ll refer to ourselves as a slaughterhouse or slaughter plant AND processing facility. Sometimes use the terms processor interchangeably. Mainly cuz that’s what it is. Moreso nowadays cuz the industry (as a whole) is so specialized. We kill, cut, further process, grind, value add process, cook, etc..yadda yadda ya. Start to finish. So, it just feels more appropriate to say slaughter plant & processing facility. IDK why. Just seems to fit in my mind.

  3. We have the same problem in hunting: Hunting television shows and state agencies tend to refer to the “harvest” of game. Good lord, imagine if I harvested tomatoes with my 12 gauge – it could get ugly!

    The problem is that non-hunters know when someone’s soft-pedaling reality and they don’t like it. Neither do I. All intellectual dishonesty does is make it look like we have something to hide.

  4. I sell our beef at a local farmers’ market and find myself using both “process” and “slaughter” interchangeably. One reason is the negative connotation associated with the word slaughter. Slaughter has been linked often historically with the term massacre – innocents screaming, blood flying everywhere. We don’t have our cattle massacred, so I say “processed” when I’m engaging some customers. Turning a living animal into cuts of meat for human consumption is after all a process. It often comes down to feeling out the person I’m engaging. It’s easy when they come up to me and say “I grew up on a farm/ranch…”, or “I worked at a slaughterhouse…”. Or even, “Where do you have your cattle processed?” Then I know where I stand, otherwise, it can come down to a person making a funny face or not if I talk of the killing process.

    “Harvesting” on the other hand I never use. It simply makes me think of large farm equipment scooping things up and spaying them out of a shoot. Even if John Deere were to come up with a “Cattle Harvester” I’d never advocate against using it. Talk about bad imagery 🙂

    So from the perspective of someone that talks face to face with meat customers, I’ll stick with: “Slaughterhouse” as I don’t associate the term with massacre; “Processing/Processed” as I think it’s a fair description. And avoid “Harvesting” and even “Butcher/Butchered in the verb form as I feel they’ve been used too often to describe murderers and murder scenes and other sundry acts of wanton violence (blame it on the news media!). Unless, that is, I’m referring to a specific person the customer might be familiar with. As far as I’m concerned, local butcher has always been an honorable profession. About time people came to realize that again.

  5. Hi, like your blog. We use “harvest” instead of the term “kill shot” in our industry i.e. tv media. Its just an easier term to use when I’m talking with mass media, like USA Today or a local paper. But, when referring to where the deer goes to get processed, we call it “deer processing” or “butcher.” When my dad owned a hog plant in Iowa, we called it the “processing plant.” We never referred to it as a slaughterhouse. Although growing up in S. Dakota, I remember all the cattle plants being called “slaughthouses.” So now I’m wondering if there isn’t different words for different TYPES of facilities and just different dialect based on where you live.

  6. I agree with you that “harvest” just doesn’t fit. It is interesting to me that it was called slaughter for so many years. All the old timers in the industry call it slaughter and even used the term butcher, but now all of a sudden things change. Why? Just because we are a more modern society it requires a change of vocabulary…? To me, I grew up watching my dad butcher or slaughter. And I call it what it is.

  7. the term used by ancient romans when describing battles where lots of people got essentially pinned close together by the enemy and “cut down” man by man is translated into English as “slaughter” in most translated texts. Something about it being systematic and the victim being mostly defenseless is part of the meaning. So slaughter is properly used when describing the “processing” of piggies, cows, poultry, and to a lesser degree fish that are farm raised

  8. r.e. customer reaction. My late mother in law was raised in Glen Elyn, Il (Chicago suburb) when Chicago was still a meat packing center. Her grade school class was taken to a packer. To the kill floor and all. This was back in the late 1930’s. She still cooked a good plate of meat. Darned good. Most carnivores are well aware of the reality that an animal died for their meal. If we waste nothing and give thanks for the meal I consider myself covered on the moral front.

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