The Muslim and Jewish communities in Flanders have criticized a proposal by the Belgian region to ban the non-stunned slaughter of small animals, which they say would contravene their rules for ritual killing.
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Under the draft law, animals like sheep and poultry will have to be stunned electrically before being killed, which most animal rights campaigners say is more humane than the Jewish kosher and Islamic halal rituals. Both require that butchers swiftly slaughter the animal by slitting its throat and draining the blood.
"Unstunned slaughter is outdated," Ben Weyts, regional minister of animal welfare, said in a statement. "In a civilized society, it is our damn duty to avoid animal suffering where possible."
The bill has broad support in the predominantly Catholic region, and the opposition from Flanders' religious minorities illustrates the difficulties facing some European countries as they struggle to integrate immigrant populations.
The issue could play with a wider audience, including right-wing politicians and animal rights campaigners, who generally support the legislation.
As stunning larger animals is not possible without also fatally wounding them, the proposed law requires animals such as cattle be stunned immediately after their throats are cut if slaughtered in a ritual manner.
The Flemish Jewish community said it was studying the proposal and that stunned slaughter was not in line with Jewish religious laws.
Belgium's Muslim community said its religious council has previously expressed its opposition to stunned slaughter and there had been no change in its stance since then.
"Muslims are worried about whether they can eat halal food ... in conformity with their religious rites and beliefs," the Belgian Muslim Executive said.
While the proposed law would only apply to the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders in the north of Belgium, other Belgian regions are planning similar moves.
Countries including Denmark, Switzerland and New Zealand already prohibit non-stunned slaughter.