The European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg has upheld a ban by the Flemish government on animal slaughter without prior stunning.
The court was responding to a request from Belgium’s Constitutional Court for a ruling on a point of EU law.
In July 2017, the Flemish government introduced a decree banning the slaughter of animals for meat without stunning them first. Stunning is usually done using electrodes to give a shock or a captive-bolt gun.
The decree was opposed by Jewish and Muslim groups, whose religion does not allow the stunning of animals prior to slaughter. They took their case to the Constitutional Court, alleging the Flemish decree was in violation of their right to freedom of religion.
Included in their case was a reference to the charter of fundamental rights of the EU, as well as a 2009 regulation on animal welfare. The Constitutional Court referred that issue to the ECJ.
In an opinion published in September, the advocate-general of the ECJ said the ban on slaughter without stunning was indeed a violation of Charter’s guarantee of freedom of religion.
Usually, the court follows the advocate-general’s advice, but not in this case.
EU law, the court has said, contains nothing in its provisions on animal slaughter to stop member states imposing a ban on slaughter without stunning.
“In its examination of the proportionality of the limitation, the Court concludes that the measures contained in the decree allow a fair balance to be struck between the importance attached to animal welfare and the freedom of Jewish and Muslim believers to manifest their religion,” the ruling states.
“Lastly, the Court finds that the decree neither prohibits nor hinders the putting into circulation of products of animal origin derived from animals which have undergone ritual slaughter, where those products originate in another Member State or in a non-Member State.”
Flemish minister Ben Weyts (N-VA), who as minister for animal welfare introduced the decree in 2017, welcomed the ruling on Twitter.
“We are making history today. The European Court of Justice confirms that the Flemish ban on slaughter without stunning is not contrary to European law. This means that the door is now open throughout Europe to a ban on slaughter without stunning,” he wrote.
The opinion if the ECJ will now go back to the Constitutional Court, to be taken into account when arriving at its own ruling.
“Hopefully, the Constitutional Court can quickly reach a judgment on the basis of this historic ruling,” Weyts tweeted. “We are already reaching out to the faith communities that have challenged the ban. Let us turn the page together and strive together for better animal welfare.”