Veterinary Past

To slaughter, to sacrifice: the historic background of killing animals for food

  • L. Devriese


‘Slaughter’ and ‘slay’, words of Germanic origin, and ‘beat’ and ‘abattoir’ of Latin descent, all refer to a primitive way of rendering animals unconscious, of ‘knocking them out’, before actually killing them with a knife by cutting the throat or the main blood vessels in the heart region. The situation is complicated by religious traditions. Ritual slaughter in the Islamic and Judaic traditions dates back to Biblical times, when Abraham (Ibrahim) was prevented by God (Jahweh, Allah) from offering (sacrificing) his only son, who was replaced on the altar by a ram. In the orthodox Jewish tradition, the killing of animals for food is complicated by a strong taboo against blood. This came to expression in the strict rules for killing the conscious animal with a sharp knife and for avoiding contact with the animal’s blood. In the Christian tradition, the taboos disappeared after the early period because it was realized that Jesus, as the Lamb of God, has sacrificed himself in order to save and redeem mankind. The notion of sacrifice is still associated with killing animals for food or other human use. In the biomedical literature, the term ‘sacrifice’, originally meaning ‘offer’, is frequently used to designate the killing of experimental animals. In four surahs in the Koran, the importance is stressed of offering all animals being put to death for food to the One and Only Allah. The slaughtering technique is not stipulated in any further detail, except for the rule that the animals should not be beaten to death and that the blood evacuated should not be consumed.

How to Cite:

Devriese, L., (2016) “To slaughter, to sacrifice: the historic background of killing animals for food”, Vlaams Diergeneeskundig Tijdschrift 85(6), 368-377. doi:

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Published on
27 Dec 2016
Peer Reviewed