In Brussels, ritual slaughter maintained under pressure from religious practices

Parties divided and sometimes renouncing their principles, a threatened regional government, a frontal clash between religious and secular principles, a heady scent of electoralism: this is what will remain of an intense debate on the ritual slaughter of animals which took place in Brussels-Capital, the third Belgian region. A proposal from the centrist Independent Federalist Democratic Party (DéFI), supported by environmentalists and Flemish liberals, which had set fire to the powder in October 2021, resulted in a very tight vote on Friday June 17 – 42 against the stunning of animals before they are killed, 38 for, 6 abstentions. A conclusion, probably provisional, which will not calm the spirits.

The text originally aimed to harmonize the region’s legislation with that already in force in Flanders and Wallonia. The question of animal welfare, put forward in particular by the Professional Veterinary Union, which stressed that an animal with its throat slit can die for up to fourteen minutes, was however quickly eclipsed in favor of political and religious considerations.

Weight of the “community phenomenon”

If the association for the defense of animals Gaia had filed a petition with 70,000 signatures in favor of stunning, a text to the contrary would have claimed 110,000 signatures aimed at protecting the practice of shehita of the Jewish religion and dhakat for Muslims. Practices that escape the obligation of desensitization prior to slaughter enacted by European rules, and that the other two Belgian regions had been banned in 2019, despite the appeals of Muslim and Jewish organizations invoking respect for freedom cults.

The Belgian Constitutional Court and the Court of Justice of the European Union had, at the time, not upheld their arguments, considering that a ban on slaughter without stunning would neither violate the separation between the State and cults or freedom of belief.

Read also Ritual slaughter: prior stunning can be enforced in the EU in the name of animal welfare

Over the months, many topics have punctuated the debates of the regional parliament. Economic, with the question of maintaining employment in the region’s slaughterhouses and the fact that, if ritual slaughter were prohibited, the communities concerned would source their supplies from abroad. Scientific, with the search for alternatives that would both reduce animal suffering and respect religious precepts. Philosophical, with the evocation, by some elected officials, of the consideration of animals as sentient beings, a subject which should also be at the heart of the “code of good conduct” for animal welfare that the government regional is defined soon.

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