Banning the ritual slaughter of animals that are not first stunned is unlawful, the EU Advocate General Gerard Hogan proposed to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).
The opinion, published on September 10 comes after a decree in Belgium last year that prohibits the slaughtering of animals without first stunning them, a practice followed mostly by Muslim and Jewish communities in the Flemish Region. Seeing their religious freedom in danger, various Muslim and Jewish associations challenged the decree seeking its total or partial annulment. Belgium’s Constitutional Court referred the case to the CJEU for a preliminary ruling on whether such a ban is permissible under EU law.
The EU Advocate General’s argument released this week considers the guarantees of religious liberty and freedom contained in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
EU Advocate General Hogan pointed out that Article 4(4) of Regulation No 1099/2009 reflects the desire of the EU legislature to respect the freedom of religion and the right to manifest religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance — despite the avoidable suffering caused to animals by ritual slaughter without prior stunning.
Article 4 of Regulation No 1099/2009 says:
1. Animals shall only be killed after stunning in accordance with the methods and specific requirements related to the application of those methods set out in Annex I. The loss of consciousness and sensibility shall be maintained until the death of the animal.
4. In the case of animals subject to particular methods of slaughter prescribed by religious rites, the requirements of paragraph 1 shall not apply provided that the slaughter takes place in a slaughterhouse.
“That provision thereby gives effect, in my view, to the EU’s commitment to a tolerant, plural society where divergent and, at times, conflicting views and beliefs subsist and must be reconciled,” the former Judge of the Irish Court of Appeal and the High Court wrote.
In his opinion, Advocate General Hogan emphasised that:
- the EU Member States have obligations for animal welfare as they are sentient creatures
- the adoption of stricter national rules to protect animal welfare is permitted if the core of ritual slaughter is not encroached upon.
- the Court cannot allow a policy choice to be hollowed out by individual Member States taking a particular action in the name of animal welfare, which would have the substantive effect of nullifying the derogation in favour of certain religious adherents.
An Advocate General’s opinion is not binding for the CJEU but serves as a legal solution proposal. Moreover, the CJEU won’t decide on the original dispute. The Belgian court will dispose of the matter following the Court’s decision.
As it will be binding on other national courts or tribunals, the CJEU judgment may affect more EU member states.
For example, Denmark, Sweden, and Slovenia have already imposed an unstunned slaughter ban — in contrast to Germany. The largest EU nation by population allows short-term electroshocks in the animal's head to cater to its estimated five million-strong Muslim community.
The Advocate General’s opinion caught animal welfare activists off-guard.
“We are disillusioned and even perplexed. We didn’t see this coming,” said Michel Vandenbosch in a statement published on the Global Action in the Interest of Animals (GAIA) website. Vandenbosch is the leader of the Belgian animal welfare organisation.
GAIA’s lawyer, Anthony Godfroid, added that “though we’re understandably disappointed, this isn’t the end.”
The ruling on the case C-336/19, due in a few weeks, will reveal if the Court of Justice of the European Union sees it the same way.
Not all Islamic countries and halal certification bodies require animals to be conscious when they are slaughtered, and some believe this approach is not sustainable on a global scale.
For example, Malaysia’s JAKIM allows stunning as long as it is done in accordance with Malaysian Standards MS1500, or through a method approved by the Malaysian Fatwa Council.
(Reporting by Petra Loho; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim firstname.lastname@example.org)
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