Differing approaches to stunning and slaughtering of livestock in some European jurisdictions may hinder halal meat production.
London/Brussels – European Union member states have had a freer hand to impose stunning requirements, including kosher as well as halal production since December 2020 because of a European Court of Justice (ECJ) decision. The court ruled that member states could mandate pre-slaughter non-lethal stunning despite the religious exemption to mandated stunning within September 2009 EU regulation on animal protection at the time of killing.
“Slaughter without stunning is allowed according to EU rules, but member states can implement stricter national rules that may limit some methods of slaughter,” said a European Commission spokesperson.
Under the EU’s 2009 regulation, a wide range of stunning methods are permitted across the EU, which includes electrical stunning, mechanical stunning with a penetrative and non-penetrative captive bolt, and gas stunning – listed in annex 1 of the law.
As for when stunning needs to be applied, the 2009 regulation’s recital says: “Stunning is therefore necessary to induce a lack of consciousness and sensibility before, or at the same time as, the animals are killed.” For livestock to be stunned after they are fatally injured – such as when their throat is cut – a religious exemption allowed in the law needs to be applied, whose application has now been weakened by the recent ECJ case.
This key ECJ case arose in Belgium, when powerful regional governments in Flanders and Wallonia banned halal and kosher slaughter without stunning. The country’s third major regional government – for the capital Brussels – is still debating the issue and at present allows non-stunning slaughter.
An appeal to Belgium’s constitutional court that the Walloon and Flemish bans did not respect religious freedoms and traditions was rejected in September 2021. This was met with dismay from the Muslim community - with the Executive Office of Muslims in Belgium and the Coordination Council of Islamic Institutions of Belgium (Exécutif des Musulmans de Belgique/Executief van de Moslims van België) stating on October 1 that "the current methods of religious slaughter... are perfectly compatible with the demands of public health, food safety and animal welfare".
But protests aside, Belgium’s slaughterhouses must follow EU law: “We fully respect the existing legislation in animal welfare, including the specific provisions on slaughter,” said Pekka Pesonen, secretary general of Brussels-based Copa-Cogeca, which represents EU farmers and agri-cooperatives. His organisation does not hold a “specific position for halal at European level,” he told Salaam Gateway. “This is considered a national matter, given the historic differences in many member states.” He added: “In general, we recognise the importance of both animal welfare rules and religious concerns. But the trick is to respect them both.”
By contrast, in the Netherlands, non-stunned slaughter is allowed, “but additional specifications apply to this type of slaughter,” a Dutch ministry of agriculture, nature and food quality spokesperson told Salaam Gateway. These are contained in a 2012 Covenant on ‘slaughtering without stunning according to religious rites.’
These additional specifications state that non-stunned slaughter must be conducted in a designated slaughterhouse. Only people with a certificate of competence shall perform the non-stunned slaughter; and only one person can be present apart from the competent authorities and person/s performing the killing. “Each animal subjected to non-stunned slaughter is checked for suitability,” the spokesperson added. “If it is decided that an animal is not fit, non-stunned slaughter is not allowed.”
Other specifications state how to hold the animal and apply the neck cut. From January 2018, animals subjected to non-stunned slaughter must be checked for unconsciousness. If the animal is conscious within 40 seconds after its neck is cut, it must be stunned.
The Covenant was agreed and signed in 2012 by the ministry, government liaison group the Contactorgaan Moslims en Overheid, the Dutch-Jewish Congregation and the Dutch Association of Slaughterhouses and Meat Processing Companies. Part of these rules were written into national law in 2017, for instance the requirement for Dutch slaughterhouses to carry out controls and inspections necessary to protect the animals at the time of slaughter.
The ministry spokesperson emphasised that the Dutch government leaves the responsibility for fulfilling halal requirements to the industry: “They work with the halal certifying bodies and we do not interfere with that.”
Wasim al Shaman, of the Netherlands’ Halal Quality Control Group Headquarters’ Management and Projects Department, said it would be tough to force Dutch slaughterhouses to utilise stunning. He stressed that while kosher food producers could not accept stunning under any circumstances, “Muslims are more open minded and halal authorities accept stunning if it is ‘reversible’”– in other words, the animal stays alive and dies from bleeding not stunning.
There is even less flexibility in Denmark, where in February 2014, the slaughter of animals without pre-stunning was banned, creating a conflict with halal certification that opposes the use of stunning. Just over 4% of the Danish population is Muslim.
Dan Jørgensen, the then minister for agriculture and food, was widely quoted by Danish media saying: "Animal rights come before religion." The 2014 law (Ordinance on the Slaughter and Killing of Animals), outlaws the killing of any animal for food without stunning.
At the time, Khalil Jaffar, an Imam at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Copenhagen, told broadcaster Al Jazeera that Islamic leaders in the country had promoted a religious decree many years previously, identifying stunned animals cut by a knife as halal in Denmark.
A petition organised against the new ruling by lobbying and certification group Danish Halal stated: “The new order is a clear interference in religious freedom and limits the Muslims and Jews’ rights to practice their religion in Denmark.
“It is a procedure that is done under the guise of animal welfare, despite the fact that many scientific studies show that the animal suffers less [via a] properly performed slaughter than when it gets a blow to the head with a nail gun.”
Speaking to Salaam Gateway, Nadeem Adam, operations director of the Halal Monitoring Committee, a charity certifying halal products, based in Leicester, UK, criticised the Danish restrictions as curbing the freedom of choice. “We respect religious freedom where the customer has a choice. If you say this way or the highway, it’s difficult,” he said.
“When Denmark took the decision, you have to consider how much non-stun slaughter was taking place and I would say it was very minimal. If it was, then why take it away? They could have implemented additional criteria, but it’s wrong in terms of taking religious freedoms away.”
Read Greek court upsets Muslim community by banning no-stun slaughter
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