BELGIUM – Belgium has banned Halal and Kosher slaughter methods, traditional practices that involve animals killed without being stunned first, effective on New Year’s Day.

Animal slaughter without pre-stunning was banned in the region of Flanders, in the north of Belgium, on January 1 and Wallonia, the French-speaking region of southern Belgium, is set to introduce a ban in September, according to Express UK.

The controversial measure, which has sparked a backlash from Jewish and Muslim communities across Europe, is yet to be Brussels and mandates animals to be stunned before being killed in religious rituals.

The move was initiated by right-wing nationalist Ben Weyts and animal rights advocates who are pushing to completely do away with ritual slaughter, birthing fears of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism among religious minorities in Belgium.

Animal welfare and religious deadlock

Laws and regulations in Europe and the European Union require that animals be rendered insensible to pain before slaughter, to make the process more humane, some religions still put hold on religious rituals.

Muslim halal and Jewish kosher rules requires that an animal be in perfect health, ruling out the stunning code.

Advocates of animal welfare argue that while stunning saves the animal the pain since it loses consciousness in seconds, Halal and Kosher methods which involve a single cut to the neck that severs critical blood vessels causes too much suffering.

European law allows derogations from the stunning requirement to allow for ritual slaughter, based on religious freedom debate.

Countries like Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden also have laws or rules on the books banning or limiting religious slaughter. 

The Netherlands and Germany, however, the exceptions are very narrow.

“They want to keep living in the Middle Ages and continue to slaughter without stunning, as the technique didn’t yet exist back then without having to answer to the law,” said Ann De Greef, director of Global Action in the Interest of Animal.

“Well, I’m sorry, in Belgium the law is above religion and that will stay like that.”

Religious authorities have refused to accept that stunning could be a religious ritual.

Belgium, which has a population of 500,000 Muslims and over 30,000 Jews may see the religious groups who staunchly holds on their religious beliefs turn to the international market for their meat products.

Religious leaders from both groups have moved to court to challenge the ban, arguing that the decision was more motivated by religious stigma rather than animal rights.

“The government asked for our advice on the ban, we responded negatively, but the advice wasn’t taken,” said Saatci Bayram, a leader of the Muslim community.

“This ban is presented as a revelation by animal rights activists, but the debate on animal welfare in Islam has been going on for 1,500 years. Our way of ritual slaughtering is painless.”

Animal rights groups applauded the legislation.