Animal Rights Over Halal killing: ECJ Verdict in Belgium Case Leaves Jews, Muslims Worried

With the European Court of Justice (ECJ) upholding the ban on halal or kosher meat in a case pertaining to Belgium, the continent's Jews and Muslims are watching the ramifications of the judgment across Europe. The landmark ruling is seen as a win for animal rights but the Jews and Muslims see it as an affront on their religious rights.

The European Union's top court issued the verdict on a case from 2017 when a Belgian court said that animals need to be stunned before being killed, something that's not permitted in halal meat processing. Luxembourg-based European court upheld the Belgian court's ruling that banned the slaughter of livestock that have not been stunned.

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Though only a few regions have banned the slaughter of animals without stunning, the minorities across the continent are apprehensive that the law could be widely upheld in the future, given that a stringent, essentially European version of secularism is gaining greater recognition. While Muslims raise the issue of Islamophobia, Jewish too are bristling under the new wave of opposition to ritual processing of meat.

As per the Muslim halal and the Jewish kosher rituals, animals need to be conscious when their throats are cut. Animal rights organizations say this is barbaric, and that animals need to be stunned in order to facilitate a rather painless slaughter. Those who vouch for halal tradition argue that animals die a painless death when their throats are slit in one strike with a sharp knife.

They say that the original decree had effectively outlawed their traditional ways of slaughtering animals.

When the ruling comes into effect in the Belgian regions that upheld the ban on halal killing, Muslims and Jews will have to obtain meat from elsewhere if they have to consume it as per religious rituals. There are some 500,000 Muslims in the country whereas the Jewish population is a much smaller 30,000.

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Other European countries that do not allow any religious exemptions to EU slaughter regulations are Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Slovenia.

Belgian Court Sought ECJ View

The case came to the ECJ when Belgium's top court asked it to decide if a ban on halal slaughter is compatible with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU.

Experts see the ECJ verdict as a key development, even as the issue was discussed across Europe for decades. In Germany, for example the issue of outlawing ritual slaughter had come up in various courts over the last two decades. While many courts ruled against it, exemptions were given on religious grounds.

However, across Europe, such a view is increasingly meeting stiff resistance, observes Christoph Strack, Duetsche Well's religions expert. "European societies grow progressively secular, more and more people take offense to certain religious practices. This pertains to certain rituals, religious needs and sensitivities; religion is no longer taken as seriously as it once was," he says.