slaughter c.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: etymonline.com)
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.