By Stéphanie Wattier, Professor at the Faculty of Law at the University of Namur
HASAfter the Walloon and Flemish parliaments, it is the Brussels parliament’s turn to consider whether or not to ban the ritual slaughter of animals without prior stunning. In this context, it should be noted from the outset that animal welfare is an issue that has been regionalized in the course of the Sixth State Reform, which explains possible legal differences from region to region. Where Walloon and Flemish legislators have decided to ban all slaughter, including religious ones, without stunning, this is not the case in the Brussels region, where political parties are very divided on the issue.
In addition to the “Belgian” questions about the distribution of competences, the competences of the European Union must also be taken into account, especially with regard to the common agricultural policy. In 2009, the Union adopted a regulation on the protection of animals at the time of their killing, which came into force in 2013 and provides for the possibility (and therefore not an obligation) of an exception to the requirement of stunning of religious slaughter.
The decision of the Walloon and Flemish regions to ban ritual slaughter without prior stunning has recently been upheld by the Court of Justice of the European Union and the Constitutional Court. The appeal is now pending before the European Court of Human Rights. The fact remains that the issue is less relevant in these two regions because the population of Muslim faith is much smaller there than in the Brussels region.
A difficult reconciliation
The whole difficulty lies in the compatibility between the protection of animal welfare, on the one hand, which is an objective of general interest of the European Union, and, on the other hand, freedom of religion, which is enshrined in most instruments for the protection of fundamental rights.
In order to reconcile these two issues, it seems pointless to us on the part of the Brussels Parliament to consult a plethora of scientific experts, since all scientific studies agree that the slaughter methods of the Muslim religion and the Jews cause suffering to animals, in addition to killing them into a state of great distress when they realize that their throats are about to be cut. The problem is that in the Muslim religion and in the Jewish religion it is required that the animal dies because of its slaughter and not because of the previous stunning, which sometimes happened with the old methods of mechanical stunning. Thanks to advances in technology, a reversible (and therefore non-lethal) process of electronarcosis has now been developed. It ensures that the animal does not die from the anesthetic and is only in a sleep-like state, so it does not realize that it is being shot and, in principle, does not suffer from it.
It remains that this method of electroanaesthesia is not unanimous within the religious communities. While it seems to be accepted by part of the Muslim communities, it is badly received by the Jewish communities, who also require the animal to be conscious during its slaughter so that the meat is kosher.
The dialogue path
We therefore understand the helplessness of the legislators: How can animal protection and freedom of religion be reconciled? It seems to us that the only real solution is dialogue. A dialogue between policy makers and representatives of religions so that each can understand each other’s concerns. It’s hard to imagine that Jews and Muslims aren’t also concerned about animal welfare. It should also be noted that since 2021 the Civil Code recognizes that animals are sentient. The protection of animal welfare is not only an objective of general interest of the European Union, but is also increasingly found in legislation in recent years, such as the ban on docking dogs and horses, the obligation to sterilize cats in the Walloon Region, Etc.
It is worth remembering that dialogue between the authorities and representatives of religions is the solution recommended by the Council of State at the end of 2020, when it revoked a ministerial decree that prevented religious ceremonies from being held because of the pandemic. . A new decree was then passed by the responsible minister after discussions with representatives of recognized religions and organized secularism.
By opting for dialogue, the Brussels legislature avoids at least two risks: on the one hand, the commitment to the legitimacy of the faith of religious communities and, on the other hand, secret slaughter to circumvent the bans.