Belgium upholds ban on ritual slaughter for Jews and Muslims

Belgium upholds ban on ritual slaughter for Jews and Muslims
Belgium's Constitutional Court. Credit: Google Earth

In a ruling on Thursday, The Belgian Constitutional Court supported the judgment of the European Court of Justice (CJEU) last December on banning animal slaughter without stunning.

The ruling follows a request from the Belgian court to CJEU for clarification on the legal issue and the correct interpretation of EU regulation No 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing. The regulation allows ritual slaughter without stunning if it takes place in approved slaughterhouses but leaves also the door open for the EU member states to adopt stricter rules to protect animal welfare but not to ban ritual slaughter completely.

Exceptionally, the CJEU ruling contradicted a previous opinion of its Advocate General who had recognized that a ban on ritual slaughter without stunning is an infringement on the rights of Belgian citizens to practice their religions freely and is incompatible with current EU law. An opinion submitted by the European Commission to the Court was ambiguous.

Belgian animal welfare organisation GAIA (Global Action in the Interest of Animals) has been leading the campaign for a ban on ritual slaughter without stunning in Belgium for over 25 years. The ban came into force in 2019 in both Flanders and Wallonia but was then challenged by the religious communities concerned on the grounds of freedom of religion.

The Brussels-Capital Region still permits slaughter without stunning, but not for long time if GAIA will get the upper hand in the Belgian courts.

“This brings to an end a lengthy legal battle in favour of the Flemish and Walloon ban, the sole purpose of which is to avoid inflicting scientifically proven and practically avoidable suffering during the killing of animals, with no exception for slaughter carried out in a religious context”, commented Michel Vandenbosch, GAIA's President (30 September).

The CJEU ruling in December in favour of the Flemish ban on ritual slaughter without stunning was in general welcomed by animal welfare organisations but sparked protests among defenders of freedom of religion in the EU.

Among Jewish and Muslim communities, the ruling was seen as an expression of hypocrisy since stunning does not always work painlessly and inevitably causes suffering to many of the 9 billion animals that are slaughtered annually in Europe. Furthermore, wild meat from hunting, which the court allowed for “cultural” reasons, is also sold on the meat food market.

In Judaism, kosher slaughter goes back to the biblical prohibitions against eating blood and the flesh of animals torn to death. The soul or life is considered to be in the blood.

Animal welfare NGOs are also, or even more, worried about factory farming, mass breeding of pigs and chickens in cramped spaces and cages, reindeer slaughter (in Sweden), conditions in slaughter houses, live animal transports, farming of animals for furs, and wet markets, to just mention some examples.

“Of course, this is disappointing for religious communities, but this is mostly a shame for our country,” commented Yoram Yohan Benizri, President of the Belgian Federation of Jewish Organizations.

“We are back to square one: are we to accept that hunting is permitted for cultural reasons in this country while a millennial presence in the region would not justify a similar exception? What a moral defeat for our institutions. This is not over. Legally and politically, we will continue fighting this. This is a question of principles.”

The Belgian ban hurts not only the small Jewish community but the much bigger Muslim community in the country, as well.

The two communities, however, failed to unite in a common front to defend their rights. For the Jews, who have been living in Belgium for centuries, the ban comes as a blow and some of them might now question if there is a Jewish future for them in the country.

Asked about the Belgian court ruling by The Brussels Times at today’s press conference, a Commission spokesperson replied that the Commission was aware of it.

The ruling is a follow up by a national court of the European court’s decision, allowing for stricter rules to protect animal welfare on the condition that freedom of religion is respected and that such rules are shown to be necessary.

It also emerges from the reply that the Commission for the time being has no plans to propose any amendment to the regulation to legally ensure ritual slaughter for the Jewish and Muslim communities in the EU.

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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