ECJ upholds Belgium law limiting ritual slaughters News
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ECJ upholds Belgium law limiting ritual slaughters

The European Court of Justice (ECJ), the EU’s highest court, on Thursday upheld Belgium’s ban on slaughtering animals without stunning them first, rejecting legal challenges from Muslim and Jewish groups.

This ban expands the restrictions that EU Council Regulation no. 1099/2009 placed on meat processing facilities to require the use of reversible, non-lethal stunning or anesthesia on animals prior to slaughter, but allowed religious groups the freedom to slaughter animals as they wished. The Belgian decree requires that all animals slaughtered for human consumption must be killed only after using proper stunning procedures to limit animal suffering and promote humane slaughtering practices. This amendment specifically removes the exceptions for religious and ritual slaughter that were originally allowed by Regulation 1099/2009.

The Belgian amendment drew harsh criticism from Muslim and Jewish groups who rely on halal and kosher meat preparation that, in some cases, precludes stunning. These minority religious groups argue that this new restriction seriously infringes on their rights to religious freedom of expression because they are unable to obtain meat from animals slaughtered in accordance with their beliefs. In contrast, animal rights advocacy groups are praising this decision as a big step towards more humane food production. Recently, issues similar to this have been argued before the ECJ twice, in 2018 and in 2019.

The ECJ stated that their objective was to balance freedom of religion that stems from Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, and animal rights as set out by Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The court noted that the Belgian regulation properly promotes the principles intended by Regulation no. 1099/2009 and that, although 1099/2009 does not apply to ritual slaughter, member states are not restricted in this regard and have the freedom to ensure more extensive protection of animals at their own discretion.

The ECJ ultimately concluded that the Belgian amendment was not unreasonably restrictive and had found an equitable balance between safeguarding the religious freedoms of its citizens and protecting farm-raised animals from cruel slaughtering practices. This decision is based in part because the amendment’s restrictions were limited to only one aspect of ritual slaughter, but they still preserved the act of ritual slaughter itself.

Although this law is currently in force only within the borders of Belgium, the ECJ’s ruling has implications for other EU states that may wish to expand the restrictions of Regulation no. 1099/2009 in similar ways that may impact the religious practices of minority religious groups in Europe.

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