Ban on slaughter without stunning by 2019


A total ban on the slaughter of animals without stunning them will come into force in January 2019, meaning ritual slaughter practiced by Muslims and Jewish communities will be impossible

To stun or not to stun

A proposal by Flemish minister for animal welfare Ben Weyts for a total ban on the slaughter of animals without stunning them has been approved by the government of Flanders. The practice of ritual slaughter, or slaughtering animals without stunning them – required by Muslims and orthodox Jews for religious purposes – will be illegal starting on 1 January 2019.

At present, animals in Flanders are required to be stunned, which means administering an electric shock to render them unconscious, before their throats are cut. For bovine animals, the alternative is known as “post-cut stunning” where the shock comes just after the cut. This method is considered by veterinarians as less desirable but still preferable to no stunning at all. 

Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice, requires Muslim families to slaughter an animal – usually a sheep – while it is still alive, and fears that stunning could kill the animal first have made the procedure unacceptable.

Licensed slaughterhouses are allowed to perform ritual slaughter, but during Eid, they cannot keep up with demand. Temporary slaughterhouses set up to handle the demand are not allowed to slaughter without stunning.

Post-cut stunning has been accepted as a valid alternative for sheep by Muslim organisations in other EU countries. But Weyts’ proposal requires pre-cut stunning for all animals outside of cattle.

A political accord was reached based on the work of Piet Vanthemsche, former head of farmers’ union Boerenbond. He spent eight month talking to both religious communities, animal rights representatives and slaughterhouses, eventually bringing the majority and opposition parties together.

Stunning, Vanthemsche said on the programme De afspraak, does not kill the animal but prevents it from feeling pain. “If the technique is being done successfully [elsewhere], then let’s use it. The animal actually dies by being bled, and that is according to the principles of ritual slaughter.”

Michel Vandenbosch of animal rights organisation Gaia said he was “moved” by the agreement. “I can hardly believe it.”

The Muslim Executive, which represents Muslims in Belgium, distanced itself from the agreement. In a statement, it said that it was “prepared to research all avenues that might lead to an improvement in animal welfare, that might limit the extent of animal suffering”.

The European Council for Kosher Slaughter, meanwhile, has come out against the new regulation and will study it before deciding on further steps, according to Michael Freilich, editor of the magazine Joods Actueel.

Photo: A sheep is administered with an electric shock