EU countries have the right to enforce mandatory stunning on animals prior to slaughter because it does not infringe on religious rights, the bloc’s highest court has ruled, drawing angry protests from the European Jewish Congress.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling, published on Thursday (17 December), concluded that EU slaughter regulation “does not preclude member states from imposing an obligation to stun animals prior to killing which also applies in the case of slaughter prescribed by religious rites,” it states.
As such, member states can legitimately introduce mandatory reversible stunning prior to slaughter carried out in the context of religious rites.
However, the ruling specifies that this provides only for the use of reversible stunning, a stunning process whereby animals eventually have the potential to regain sensibility, and that this stunning itself cannot result in the animal’s death.
The ruling comes after the Flemish region of Belgium sought to amend the law on the protection and welfare of animals to prohibit animals from being slaughtered without prior stunning, including for religious rites, back in 2017.
This was challenged by several Jewish and Muslim associations, which sought at least partial annulments on the grounds that by not allowing believers to obtain meat from animals slaughtered in accordance with their religious precepts, this would prevent them from practising their religion.
However, the court ruling concluded 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 news was welcomed by animal rights campaign groups.
“It is now clear that our society doesn’t support animals to unduly suffer at the most critical time of their lives,” said Reineke Hameleers, CEO of Eurogroup for Animals.
“Reversible stunning makes it possible to successfully balance the apparently competing values of religious freedom, and the concern for animal welfare under current EU law,” she said, adding that acceptance of pre-slaughter stunning by religious communities is increasing both in EU and non-EU countries.
Back in October, the group released an opinion poll showing that 92% of EU citizens surveyed supported mandatory stunning before slaughter.
However, in an online statement, European Jewish Congress (EJC) President Moshe Kantor slammed the ruling, saying that “the right to practice our faith and customs, one which we have been assured over many years was granted under European law, has been severely undermined by this decision”.
“This ruling is a heavy blow to Jewish life in Europe and in essence tells Jews that our practices are no longer welcome. Telling Jews that their ways are not welcome is just a short step from telling Jews that we are no longer welcome,” he warned, adding that the group will “continue to fight this tragic decision”.
“Europe’s Jewish communities will not rest until our fundamental rights are asserted and protected under the full weight of European law.”
Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER), added that this decision “flies in the face of recent statements from the European Institutions that Jewish life is to be treasured and respected”.
He added that the ban on non-stun slaughter has already had a “devastating impact” on the Belgian Jewish community, causing supply shortages during the pandemic.
The case will now go back to the Flanders’ Constitutional Court, which will need to confirm and implement the ECJ’s ruling.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]