The word that keeps recurring to me today is ‘slaughter’. It’s a common word; everyone knows it, probably everyone uses it. I look on it as one of these words that we tend to use without examining too closely. It’s a bit like the word ‘suffering’ that I wrote about recently. It’s a word we glance at and we get the gist; a vague impression of something undesirable, unpleasant. And then we move on. Swiftly, thinking words like ‘necessary evil’ and ‘protection laws’. But today, indulge me, let’s have a closer look at what it really means.
Slaughter. What does the dictionary tell us? I looked at several and each has a slightly different definition. Disregarding colloquial use like ‘the football team was slaughtered’, definitions fall into two main categories; humans and nonhumans, and may be summarised as follows:
The killing or butchering of cattle, sheep, etc., especially for food;
Killing animals for food;
The killing of animals for their meat.
The brutal or violent killing of a person;
Killing people or animals in a cruel or violent way, typically in large numbers;
The violent killing of a large number of people;
The killing of many people cruelly and unfairly.
Hiding in plain sight
Isn’t it interesting what a dictionary tells us in terms of the double standards of our species? Note that definitions that broadly relate to nonhumans aim for a matter-of-fact tone with ‘killing’, ‘butchering’ whereas with only minor exceptions, definitions relating to humans, suddenly become ‘brutal’, ‘violent’, ‘cruel’ and ‘unfair’.
As always, our prejudices are hiding in plain sight. We skate over the facts unless our own species is involved, and then even our very dictionaries – where we look for facts and clarity – are dripping with speciesism.
Much is written about the preposterous term ‘humane’ slaughter. For me, it’s crystal clear that trying to insert the word ‘humane’ (merciful, kind, kindly, kindhearted, tender, compassionate, gentle, sympathetic; benevolent, benignant, charitable) into any of these definitions just won’t work. It doesn’t. It creates a completely nonsensical term.
Well so much for the wordplay.
Death is death
Put simply, nonhumans are slaughtered by the tens of billions every year to assuage consumer demand for their flesh and body parts, and as a direct result of our obsessive use of their eggs and milk. It is of absolutely no relevance what kind of prison our victims occupied while awaiting death or what kind of food they were given – things we are encouraged to obsess over and look upon as ‘welfare’ – they all end up in the same place. The slaughter process as inflicted on sentient mammals and birds varies depending on the species but in every case it is geared to achieving one thing; their death. The death of every one of our bird and mammal victims is by ‘exsanguination’, which means they bleed to death, are drained of blood.
This bleeding to death is done by the cutting open of the throat and severing the carotid arteries and jugular veins, or the blood vessels from which they arise. Gravity is enlisted to assist their hearts in this process of bleeding to death, hence the reason that the dying are hoisted upside down as their lifeblood pumps from their gashed necks. In other words, they are not dead at this stage.
I know many of us console ourselves that the practice of stunning is intended to prevent our victims from being aware of what is happening. Setting aside the fact that this can be an inexact procedure, particularly given the sheer volume of nonhumans passing through the death factories at ever-increasing speed each year, once we start to open our minds to what is really going on here, our common sense kicks in.
Many of our victims are massive individuals and their terror and awareness of their plight cause them to seek escape with a strength born of desperation. While much is made of stunning as some sort of ‘humane’ way of easing their distress, we need simply remind ourselves that this is all happening in the interest of profit and commerce, driven by nonvegan consumer demand. In other words, the main reason stunning happens is to reduce risk to the machinery and the operatives who are carrying out the processes. Common sense tells me that a large bovine hanging upside down by one leg is difficult to achieve unless the desperate individual is in some way disadvantaged. Once hoisted in this manner, the potential for the struggles to cause harm is severely restricted.
With smaller, helpless species like chickens, the issue of damage caused by their futile struggles is obviously not a consideration. Their deaths, however, take place on conveyor belts. Frantic fluttering would not be in the interests of efficiency.
It is easy to find procedural manuals for killing nonhumans online but I have no wish to become an expert. I know all I need to know and my common sense fills in the blanks. As will the common sense of any who allow themselves to turn away from the myths that we were all taught as children.
Hard to believe
And if, by any chance there are any ‘animal lovers’ out there who are still undecided about whether this word ‘slaughter’ relates to something morally justifiable, I would ask them to consider this.
It is recognised that our victims are sentient individuals, as are those species whom we regard as companions and indeed as are we ourselves. When considering other sentient species, we have far more similarities than differences.
Many, if not most of us have shared time with, and even loved, companions. I have shared my life with nonhumans, cats and a dog about whom I have written before. I have held trembling paws in my own shaking hands as the light faded from their beloved eyes, ebbing on the tide of drugs administered by a vet. I have held them in my arms and wept over them as their breathing slowed and stopped. To this day it torments me that they may have known an instant of fear or pain that medical expertise could have prevented.
If someone had tried to tell me that to stun them with a captive bolt or by electric shock, hoist them upside down by one leg and cut open their throats was a ‘humane’ way to end the pain I could no longer prevent, I would have had no difficulty seeing it for the nonsense it was.
Common sense has not failed me and I’m confident yours won’t fail you. We have no need to slaughter anyone, can live and thrive without deliberately causing harm.