As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan started last Saturday, the parliament in Belgium’s Wallonia region on Wednesday banned the slaughter of animals without first stunning them despite opposition from Muslim (and Jewish) communities defending their rituals.
The ban on slaughter without first stunning or anesthetizing the animals does not apply to imports of kosher or halal meat into Wallonia.
The Executive of Belgium’s Muslims, which represents the country’s estimated 600,000 to 800,000 Muslims, voiced “serious doubts” over the law’s compatibility with the free exercise of religious rituals.”
The parliament in Belgium’s northern Dutch-speaking region of Flanders is gearing up to adopt a similar ban from January 2019.
In 2016, Belgium’s Council of State issued a ruling that a complete ban on ritual slaughter would violate the country’s constitution and recommended a compromise to be sought, in consultation with Jewish and Muslim religious communities. However, Muslim and Jewish communities in Flanders have criticised the proposal by the Belgian region to ban the unstunned slaughter of small animals, which they say would contravene their rules for ritual killing.
Under the draft law, animals like sheep and poultry will have to be stunned electrically before being killed, which most animal rights campaigners say is more humane than the Islamic halal and Jewish kosher rituals. Both require that butchers swiftly slaughter the animal by slitting its throat and draining the blood.
The bill has broad support in the predominantly Catholic region, and the opposition from Flanders’ religious minorities illustrates the difficulties facing some European countries as they struggle to integrate immigrant populations.
The issue could play with a wider audience, including right wing politicians and animal rights campaigners, who generally support the legislation.
As stunning larger animals is not possible without also fatally wounding them, the proposed law requires animals such as cattle be stunned immediately after their throats are cut if slaughtered in a ritual manner.
Belgium’s Muslim community said its religious council has previously expressed its opposition to stunned slaughter and there had been no change in its stance since then.
“Muslims are worried about whether they can eat halal food … in conformity with their religious rites and beliefs,” the Belgian Muslim Executive said.
The Flemish Jewish community said it was studying the proposal and that stunned slaughter was not in line with Jewish religious laws.
Countries including Denmark, Switzerland and New Zealand already prohibit unstunned slaughter.