The new laws on animal sacrifices that come into force this year in Belgium have stirred the spirits of the Jewish and Muslim communities. In Flanders it is forbidden to kill them without prior stunning from the beginning of January. In September, just after the Islamic holiday of sacrifice, the same will happen in Wallonia. Brussels, the other Belgian region, has not yet imposed restrictions, but the debate is on the table.
"It is a sad day for the Jews in Europe, a sad day for religious freedom in Europe," lamented the president of the European rabbis, Pinchas Goldschmidt, a few hours before the regulation began to work in Flanders. The sacrificial ritual of both confessions has its own peculiarities, but they have in common that a stun gun or electric shock is not previously used to make the animal lose consciousness.
In the Muslim tradition, the slaughterer gives a dry cut to the neck of the animal looking towards Mecca while Allah is invoked. It divides the jugular and the carotid, but the spinal cord is left intact. The cattle, sheep and birds should bleed completely and as quickly as possible. Jewish ritual killing involves a deep and uniform cut in the throat with a sharp knife. Both methods are considered cruel by animal associations, and the Belgian political class has proposed to eliminate them.
The prohibition has generated frictions. The debate confronts animal welfare advocates with supporters of the right of religions to preserve their traditions, and has woven an unusual alliance between Jewish and Muslim representatives in the country. Neither the pressure of its leaders nor the calls to the Council of State to urge the Walloon and Flemish governments to paralyze the law have paid off. "This prohibition seriously threatens the annual festival of sacrifice," the Executive of Muslims in Belgium criticized in a statement.
Before the voices that see in the restrictions a excessive intervention of public authorities In the religious sphere, the animal associations, involved in the campaign in favor of the prohibition of sacrifices without stunning, have replied clarifying that their intention is not to go against any tradition, but to put an end to an animal suffering that they consider avoidable. In the same line, the Court of Justice of the EU ruled last May that the obligation to stun the animal before being slaughtered does not go against the freedom of religion and is legitimate for its protection. However, neither of the two religious communities admits that the pain experienced by the animals is greater when practicing the ritual incision in full faculties. "Respect for animal welfare is part of the very essence of Islamic philosophy and practice," insists the Belgian Muslim Executive.
The European directive allows each State to decide if religious sacrificial rituals are exempt from complying with the precept of stunning the animal previously. Most European countries, including Spain, choose to grant this privilege for religious reasons, but Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Slovenia they are, together with Belgium now, among those who do not accept any exception.
Although the measure is not exclusive to Belgium, the representatives of the Jewish community have reacted harshly since the approval of the law by the parliaments of Flanders and Wallonia, which they blame for unleashing "the most serious crisis since the Second World War World ", when Belgium was occupied by the Nazis.
Some deputies opposed to the law prefer to focus on its negative economic impact: they argue that the rule would jeopardize the viability of some slaughterhouses and destroy jobs, the majority of workers with little qualification, more difficult to be relocated. In addition, they question its usefulness for animal welfare: meat halal or kosher it could stop being produced in Belgium to be imported from countries where the ritual is legal, since its purchase abroad is not prohibited.