El­lie Har­ri­son

Let’s hear it for slaugh­ter­men and women: those who deal with the death of farm an­i­mals so we don’t have to

Countryfile Magazine - - Next Month -

Cel­e­brate the slaugh­ter­men. The peo­ple op­er­at­ing the brush bike, sweep­ing chick­ens into a bag, later plac­ing their feet in hooks on a mov­ing belt that passes a blade over their necks. The bolt-gun op­er­a­tors who deftly dab the head of a cow be­tween its ears and gen­tly de­press the trigger. The elec­tri­cal tech­ni­cians who en­cour­age pigs into an en­cased plat­form, ready to be low­ered into a cham­ber of gas. The knife crafts­men who sweep their blades into the necks of live­stock. The egg sep­a­ra­tion op­er­a­tives who skil­fully pick the yel­low male chicks cheep­ing along the con­veyor belt and gen­tly move them into a grinder.

For these work­ers know death. They have the priv­i­lege of ob­serv­ing life cease, the last breath, the fi­nal beat of the heart, the nerve twitch at the very end. Who else sees mil­lions of mo­ments of death like this? Who else knows what the act of killing looks like, sounds like, smells like? No­body that you can tell me. Not you, not me, not even our farm­ers re­ally.

We all see life. Lambs, calves, piglets be­ing born. Life in the fields, in barns and sheds. Of­ten, high wel­fare life. Some­times we even see life in lor­ries on the mo­tor­way and we speed up, eyes for­ward.


We don’t want to see death. We want some­body else to take it on please. And that bit af­ter­wards where each body needs to be drained of its blood, rid of its hide and feath­ers, head, tails and feet re­moved, or­gans taken out.

All we want to see is a tiny bit of mus­cle tis­sue, mar­bled with vis­ceral fat. We want to see fields and forks and noth­ing else. So let’s hear it for our slaugh­ter­men for a change. Bet­ter still, let’s hear our slaugh­ter­men and women. Let’s know more about what they ob­serve: the phys­i­ol­ogy, the cog­ni­tion and the be­hav­iour of death.

When fel­low Coun­try­file pre­sen­ter Tom Heap and I spoke at a re­cent press event about our wish that slaugh­ter­houses were open to the pub­lic, es­pe­cially chil­dren – di­rectly or via cam­eras – there was enough of a back­lash for Tom to sit on TV so­fas for the rest of the week ex­plain­ing him­self. (I would have joined him if only I opened my lap­top of­ten enough.) The re­ac­tion was, on the whole, sup­port­ive from both sides: ve­gan groups and meat pro­duc­ers. Only the odd school thought it too much.

But if any­one has had to break news to chil­dren about an­i­mal, or in­deed hu­man deaths, they’ll have ob­served how young­sters seem to have a quicker route to clear think­ing on the sub­ject than adults. (Why then do all chil­dren’s books show farms with a sin­gle cow, a don­key – which farms have don­keys any­way? – a sheep and a pig and they’re all friends in the farm­yard?)


In the course of hu­man his­tory, it wasn’t long ago that we hunted and put the fi­nal blow into the body of which­ever an­i­mal we were about to eat, and in that mo­ment was the recog­ni­tion of life sac­ri­ficed to nour­ish an­other. Eat­ing meat would have been rare. It’s only in very, very re­cent years that the frankly ab­surd no­tion of meat three times per day has be­come ex­pected, and at a cost no­body wants to look at.

Un­less we bear wit­ness to the full cy­cle, how can meat-eaters be sure of a good life and, cru­cially, a good death for the crea­tures they eat? And there are worlds of dif­fer­ence be­tween the two.

If we see it with our own eyes and process the killing with our evolved con­scious minds, can we be sure we could make that kill our­selves and, if not, at least recog­nise it when we ask some­one else to do it on our be­half, of­ten for the min­i­mum wage?

Oc­to­ber was his­tor­i­cally slaugh­ter month and much more vis­i­ble back then. It’s time once more to dare to look.

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