By Stéphanie Wattier, professor at the Faculty of Law of the University of Namur
HASfter the Walloon and Flemish Parliaments, it is the Brussels Parliament’s turn to look into the question of whether or not to ban the ritual slaughter of animals without prior stunning. In this respect, it should be recalled from the outset that animal welfare is a matter which was regionalized during the Sixth State Reform, which explains the potential legislative differences from one region to another. Indeed, where the Walloon and Flemish legislators have decided to prohibit all slaughter – even religious – without stunning, this is not the case in the Brussels Region where the political parties are very divided on the question.
In addition to the “Belgo-Belgian” questions of distribution of competences, it is also necessary to take into account the competences of the European Union, particularly in terms of the common agricultural policy. In 2009, the Union adopted a Regulation on the protection of animals at the time of their killing which, which entered into force in 2013, provides for a possibility (and therefore not an obligation) of an exception to the stunning obligation. in the event of religious slaughter.
The choice of the Walloon and Flemish Regions to prohibit ritual slaughter without prior stunning has recently been validated by the Court of Justice of the European Union and by the Constitutional Court. The appeal is now pending before the European Court of Human Rights. The fact remains that the question is less significant 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 reconciliation between, on the one hand, the protection of animal welfare which is an objective of general interest of the European Union and, on the other hand, the freedom of religion which is enshrined in the most instruments for the protection of fundamental rights.
To reconcile these two issues, it seems to us pointless, on the part of the Brussels Parliament, to hear a plethora of scientific experts because all the scientific studies agree in considering that the methods of slaughtering the Muslim religion and the Jews make the animals suffer, in addition to plunging them into a state of great distress when they realize that they are going to have their throats cut. The problem is that, in the Muslim religion and the Jewish religion, it is required that the animal dies because of its slaughter, and not because of the prior stunning, which sometimes happened with the old methods of mechanical stunning. Now, thanks to technical progress, a process of electronarcosis which is reversible (and therefore non-lethal) has been developed. It ensures that the animal will not die from stunning and will only be in a state similar to sleep, so that it will not realize that it is shot and will in principle not suffer from it.
It remains that this method of electronarcosis is not unanimous within religious communities. If it seems accepted by part of the Muslim communities, it is, on the other hand, badly received by the Jewish communities which require, in addition, so that the meat is kosher, that the animal is conscious during its slaughter.
The dialogue trail
We therefore understand the perplexity of the legislators: how to reconcile animal welfare and freedom of religion? It seems to us that the only real solution is that of dialogue. A dialogue between political decision-makers and representatives of religions so that each can understand the concerns of the other. It is hard to imagine that Jews and Muslims are not 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 also increasingly present in legislation in recent years, such as the ban on the docking of dogs’ tails and horses, the obligation to sterilize cats in the Walloon Region, etc.
It will be recalled that the dialogue between the public authorities and the representatives of religions is the solution which had been recommended by the Council of State at the end of 2020 when it had canceled a ministerial decree preventing the holding of religious ceremonies because of the pandemic. . A new decree was then adopted by the competent minister after discussions with representatives of recognized religions and organized secularism.
By opting for dialogue, the Brussels legislator will avoid at least two risks: that of pronouncing on the legitimacy of the beliefs of religious communities, on the one hand, and that of clandestine slaughtering being carried out to circumvent the prohibitions , on the other hand.