Source: The Economist
A new law in Belgium shows why disputes over faith-based slaughter touch a sensitive nerve
THERE are some religious-freedom arguments where even the time-honoured principle of “live and let live” fails to provide democracies with any easy answers. One such dispute concerns animal slaughter. It is an issue which can create unlikely coalitions, uniting Muslims and Jews (who share certain beliefs about how animals should be killed for meat) against an odd combination of animal-lovers, secularists and the nationalist right.
Belgium, a country which has more than its share of inter-faith and inter-communal tensions, is the latest place where slaughter methods have come under scrutiny. The legislature in Belgium’s French-speaking south has just voted to ban the killing of animals without stunning (ie, anaesthetising) them first. According to classic Muslim or Jewish teaching, animals should be killed by a single cut to the throat, administered while the beast is in a healthy state. Representatives of Belgium’s 40,000 Jews and 600,000 or more Muslims said the vote sent an extremely negative signal to religious minorities.
Although the matter is highly sensitive for both faiths, Muslim religious authorities have in recent times allowed slightly more room for compromise. Some Islamic legal pundits accept the idea of prior stunning as long as the animal remains healthy before the blood is drained. In other words, the stunning must be light and death must still be caused by rapid blood-letting.
That grey area helps to explain a proposal adopted by the main parties in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking north of Belgium, in March. As of 2019, they resolved, it should be illegal in that region to slaughter smaller animals such as sheep and chickens without prior stunning. For cattle, however, it is harder to administer a stunning blow without also causing death. So the Flemish politicians resolved that cattle should be stunned immediately after the throat-cutting, until such time as a reliable method of non-lethal stunning before bleeding was developed.