EU Court Okays Belgian Bans on Ritual Slaughter, Dealing Major Blow to Jewish, Muslim Advocates

EU Court of Justice ruling appears to propose that religious minorities adapt their practices to animal welfare requirements

Cnaan Liphshiz
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A man walks past a butcher shop in Paris which prominently advertises that it sells halal meat, 2012.
A man walks past a butcher shop in Paris which prominently advertises that it sells halal meat, 2012.Credit: AP Photo/Michel Euler
Cnaan Liphshiz

The bans in Belgium on the slaughter of animals for meat without stunning do not violate EU principles on freedom of worship, the European Union’s highest court has ruled.

The ruling Thursday by the EU Court of Justice was on a petition filed to it by several Belgian communal organizations, including the CCOJB umbrella group of French-speaking Jews, on a ban that went into effect last year on such forms of slaughter in two out of Belgium’s three states.

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The ruling is a major defeat for the efforts of advocates of ritual slaughter to challenge bans against it, which are currently in force in several EU countries including Sweden, Finland, Estonia, and Luxembourg. The ruling “gives members states a free pass on banning” ritual slaughter in Europe, Yohan Benizri, the president of the CCOJB, wrote in a statement.

Israel’s ambassador to Belgium, Emmanuel Nahshon, said the ruling is “catasrophic and a blow to Jewish life in Europe.” Israel rarely intervenes in the debate on ritual slaughter.

The court in its reasoning appears to propose that religious minorities adapt their practices to animal welfare requirements because it ruled that in Belgium only ”one aspect” of ritual slaughter have been banned while others may be observed.

The plaintiffs argued that the ban is in violation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union as it effectively denies them the right to consume locally-produced meat that conforms with the production methods mandated by their faith. In Judaism and Islam, animals need to be conscious when their necks are slit for their meat to be considered kosher or halal.

The ban on slaughter without stunning “respects the essence” of the Charter, “since it is limited to one aspect of the specific ritual act of slaughter, and that act of slaughter is not, by contrast, prohibited.”

That text appears to reference how some Jewish and Muslim communities, including in Austria, certify as kosher and halal meat produced by a procedure known as post-cut stunning, in which animals are stunned immediately after their necks are cut.

Benizri, CCOJB’s president, lamented the ruling, which he called “unbelievable.” Europe, he said in a statement, “no longer protects religious minorities.”

The bans in Belgium “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 Court ruled.

Additionally, member states of the European Union have the “discretion” to enact measures such as the Belgian bans, the court also said.

In Europe, Jewish and Muslim customs such as ritual slaughter and circumcision have united opponents both from liberal circles who cite animal welfare as their main concern and right-wing nationalists who view the custom as foreign to their countries’ cultures.

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