The European Court of Justice ruled Thursday (17 December) that authorities can order that animals be stunned before slaughter in a move decried by Israel and religious groups as attacking their traditions.
The court backed a regulation imposed in the Flemish region of Belgium banning the slaughter of livestock that have not been stunned on animal rights grounds.
The measure was seen as effectively outlawing the Muslim halal and Jewish kosher traditions, which require livestock to be conscious when their throats are slit.
“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 said.
Israel’s foreign ministry lashed out at the verdict as “sending a harsh message to all European Jewry.”
“Beyond the fact that this decision harms the freedom of worship and religion in Europe, a core value of the EU, it also signals to Jewish communities that the Jewish way of life is unwanted in Europe,” the ministry said in a statement.
An umbrella organisation for Jewish groups in Belgium called the decision a “denial of democracy” that did not respect the rights of minority groups.
“The fight continues, and we will not admit defeat until we have exhausted all our legal remedies, which is not yet the case,” Yohan Benizri, head of the Belgian Federation of Jewish Organisations, said.
Rabbi Menachem Margolin, chairman of the European Jewish Association, said the ruling represented a “sad day for European Jewry”.
“What a terrible message to send to European Jewry, that you and your practices are not welcome here. This is a basic denial of our rights as European citizens,” he said in a statement.
The Muslim community in Belgium also reacted with dismay to the verdict.
The Belgian Coordination Committee of Islamic Institutions said the decision had been a “big disappointment” and argued that the court was pandering to populist sentiments.
“The Court of Justice seems to have given in to the growing political and societal pressure from populist movements which are waging a symbolic struggle against vulnerable minorities throughout Europe,” the group said in a statement.
But the ruling was welcomed by the authorities and animal rights activists who had demanded the ban, arguing that stunning animals so that they are unconscious when they are killed is more humane.
“Today is a great day… for the hundreds of thousands of animals who, thanks to this decision, will be spared the hellish pains of slaughter without stunning for religious purposes,” said Michel Vandenbosch, the head of animal rights group GAIA.
“For me, after more than 25 years of relentless struggle… this is one of the happiest days of my life.”