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Mere words: Part two June 5, 2012

Posted by Angelique in Food ethics.
Tags: , , , , ,

Do our language choices take the “live” out of “livestock”? In the post “Mere words” I explored the fact that we typically use inanimate pronouns (“it”) rather than animate ones (“she”) to describe farm animals. Since you can’t kill an “it,” I guess it’s no surprise that we’ll use just about any other word than “kill” to describe what we do to them when it comes time to convert them from animals into meat.

“Killing” has long been eschewed in favor of the slightly more mechanistic “slaughter.” Not content with using “slaughter,” though, we are now supposed to describe it as “processing.” Several people I’ve interviewed, including owners of humane slaughterhouses and representatives of animal welfare organizations, have stopped me in my tracks when I’ve asked them about how slaughterhouses operate and advised me to say “processing plant” because it’s not considered polite to say “slaughterhouse.” Never mind the vagueness that the word “processing” suffers from – after all, turning cuts of meat into sausage is also “processing” but has nothing to do with killing.

Worse, some people in the industry now call processing – I mean the slaughter part of processing – uh, I mean the killing part of slaughter – “harvesting.” What are pigs and cows, after all, but smellier tomatoes? I interviewed a representative of the National Pork Board who spoke to me for twenty minutes with a straight face about “harvesting facilities.”

Then there are lesser, but still notable, violations of linguistic integrity. “Beak trimming” Instead of “debeaking”. “Tail docking” and “toe clipping” instead of “amputation.” Even using the word “feed” instead of “food” drives a tiny little wedge between animals and us. And eases us into the process of forgetting.



1. Jonathan Coleman - June 7, 2012

I must tell you that tail docking and toe clipping is common practice. Docking is more or less a function that reduces infection with sheep and pigs. (with out antibiotics) and toe trimming is used for keeping an animal comfortable when walking. Horse, sheep, goat, and cattle owners do this every day for their animals.If you have a cat or dog do you not trim their nails? If you do, do you call it harsh and amputation?

Angelique - June 8, 2012

Hi Jonathan, thanks for writing in. I do realize that these are common practices. Unfortunately, many very painful practices are common in livestock agriculture. Toe trimming sounds harmless until you realize they are removing the entire nails from the nailbed, which is not what we do to our pets (see, e.g., Effects on turkey broiler performance…) I think the bigger question is, are these practices necessary or are there alternatives? But in this post, I was more interested in just calling a spade a spade.

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