On 1 January 2019, a ban on shechita (kosher slaughter) came into effect in the Flanders region of Belgium. The World Jewish Congress has been working with the Belgian Jewish community on this issue for several years, and a legal challenge to this ban has been filed by the community. This instance does, however, mark the latest in a series of measures which restrict Jewish religious practices in some European countries and is a very worrying trend, which I would like to expand upon with you.
The bans on shechita relate to the pre-stunning of animals during the slaughter process. These prohibitions effectively outlaw kosher slaughter, since kashrut demands that animals are not stunned prior to being slaughtered.
These injunctions have been spearheaded by animal rights groups, although other groups are also supportive of the bans. In the case of historical bans in Norway and Sweden, these laws came into effect prior to World War II during periods of heightened antisemitism. In some European countries today, most notably France, the debate surrounding this issue is also linked to anti-immigrant and particularly Islamophobic sentiment, targeting halal slaughter, with shechita becoming collateral damage.
Additionally, there has been much debate on the European level around labeling of non-pre-stunned meat (produced either as kosher or halal), which subsequently enters the mainstream food-chain and is sold to the general public. This has not yet been legislated, but such a move could have a very detrimental economic impact on kosher meat producers.
The freedom of movement of goods within the European Union ensures that kosher products can move easily from one EU Member State to another, and therefore, kosher products continue to be available, even in the countries or areas where kosher slaughter itself is not permitted. However, the principle of religious freedom and the viability of Jewish communities in Europe, are threatened by such moves, and the World Jewish Congress is addressing each and every challenge in support of, and close collaboration with, our affiliated communities
Below is an overview of the situation in those European countries currently affected.
STATUS OF SHECHITA IN SELECTED EUROPEAN COUNTRIES
EUROPEAN UNION MEMBER STATES
- In 2017, the parliaments of the Flanders and Wallonia regions in Belgium adopted legislation that as of 2019 would outlaw any slaughter that was not preceded by stunning, citing animal rights as the justification for the new laws respectively.
- Neither law allows any exemption for religious minorities to carry out slaughter in accordance with their practices—this is despite the relevant European Union regulation 1109/2012 which allows for Member States to include a derogation in order to protect religious freedoms.
- The ban in Flanders came into effect on 1 January 2019. At least one kosher meat producer has relocated to Hungary to continue operations.
- The ban in Wallonia came into effect on 1 June 2018, however, an exemption for slaughter for religious purposes will continue until 1 September 2019.
- There was political consensus in both Flanders and Wallonia for banning such methods of slaughter. In Wallonia, the measure passed with 69 votes in favor, none against, and only three abstentions, while in Flanders, the vote passed unanimously.
- The remaining region of Belgium, the Brussels-Capital Region, does not have a ban and has seen some debate regarding introducing similar measures. However, due to the demographic composition of the region and political opposition, there is currently little chance of any viable legislation in the foreseeable future.
- At the end of 2017, in consultation with WJC, the Coordination Committee of the Jewish Organizations of Belgium (CCOJB) filed a legal case with the Constitutional Court of Belgium seeking to overturn the bans passed earlier that same year. The community is awaiting the results of their legal actions.
- Denmark introduced a ban on slaughter without pre-stunning on 17 February 2014, citing animal rights concerns.
- Importation of kosher meat continues.
- The Finnish government is proposing new legislation regarding animal well-being that would replace the current law on animal protection.
- The legislation is wide-ranging in relation to animal welfare, of which the proposed demand of stunning is only one element.
- In the proposed legislation, bleeding an animal could only commence once the animal has been appropriately stunned or killed with a method suitable for the species in question.
- The proposed legislation is currently subject to public consultation with stakeholders able to respond to the government’s proposals in writing. The deadline for consultation responses is the end of February 2019. The Ministry of Agriculture will then decide whether to amend legislation considering the received responses before the proposal is evaluated in the parliament's Constitutional Law Committee, where judges will rule if a bill is compatible with Finnish Constitution. The bill will then be debated by parliament.
- The Central Council of Jewish Communities in Finland responded to the consultation, highlighting the modest needs of the Jewish community in the country. The Jewish community has no alternative form of slaughter at its disposal and cites that statistics in relation to hunting wild animals for meat far outweighs the meager needs of the Finnish Jews. The community believes there is a significant chance the ban will pass unamended, and the WJC is firmly engaging in international advocacy to this end.
- In Sweden, domestic animals must be slaughtered after the animal has been sedated, making Jewish ritual slaughter illegal. This requirement was first adopted in 1937 by the Act on the Slaughter of Domestic Animals and came into force in 1938.
- Importation of kosher meat continues.
NON-EUROPEAN UNION MEMBER STATES
- A law prohibiting slaughter without pre-stunning on a national level was adopted by the Norwegian parliament on 12 June 1929. The law passed in a highly charged, antisemitic atmosphere with a significant campaign against the Jewish community’s right to slaughter animals without pre-stunning. There has been little debate on the matter since.
- Although Norway is not a member of the European Union, it is a member of the European Economic Area and kosher meat can be and is legally imported from other European countries.
- There is a partial ban on slaughter without pre-stunning in Switzerland – the exception being the slaughter of poultry, which is allowed.
- Various efforts have been made to relax the ban on pre-stunning for the purposes of enabling religious communities to carry out slaughter in accordance with their practices. The last such attempt took place in 2001 as part of an amendment process for the Animal Protection Act. The Federal Council’s proposal to relax the rules met stiff opposition. However, our affiliate, the Swiss Jewish Community (SIG), was able to ensure that the import of kosher meat for the supply of the Jewish religious community was adopted in 2003 and incorporated into the current Animal Protection Act.