A ban introduced in Flanders to limit ritual slaughter – killing animals without stunning them first – has been declared lawful by the European Court of Justice. The measure is aimed at limiting the number of animals slaughtered according to Muslim rite, by making it illegal to carry out slaughters in temporary abattoirs, which were previously opened up at the end of Ramadan to cope with the demand. Regulated slaughterhouses are still able to carry out the procedure, but have been shown in the past to be unable to keep up with demand.
Under normal circumstances, when an animal is slaughtered it is first stunned, by a captive bolt in the case of cows and calves, and by electrodes in the case of pigs. Under the rules of halal, the animal must be conscious at the moment of slaughter, when it also has to be exsanguinated. Jewish kosher rituals have roughly similar rules and are carried out by certified butchers (shochet), but there is not the pressure caused by an annual festival, so registered abattoirs are well able to keep up with demand.
Muslim representatives had taken the Flemish ban to the European Court, arguing that it represented a block on freedom of religion – a position previously upheld by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, on a proposal to ban ritual slaughter altogether. The EU court rejected that argument.
Earlier this week, the Walloon parliament approved a ban on ritual slaughter, which becomes law on 1 June but will only come into operation on 1 September next year.
Meanwhile the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice, Eid Al-Adha, takes place this year at the end of the fast of Ramadan, on 21 August.