Lithuania greenlights ritual slaughter amid Russia embargo
Lithuania authorised Tuesday the ritual slaughter of livestock for food, seeking Arab and Israel markets for exports after Russia embargoed EU products amid a sanctions war sparked by the Ukraine crisis.
Under the new law, which comes into effect in 2015, animals can be killed by slitting their throat without first being stunned, a method deplored by animal rights activists as inhumane.
The move comes as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development singled out Lithuania as being the most vulnerable EU member to the Russian embargo.
Moscow levelled the ban in August in retaliation against US and European sanctions over Moscow's support of pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine.
Fifty-seven members of the Baltic nation's parliament backed the move after the heated debate, four voted against and 11 abstained.
"The new law allows us to start talk with Arab countries over our meat exports. We are also in talks with Israel," Agriculture Minister Virginija Baltraitiene told AFP after the vote.
Baltraitiene said the meat ban could cost Lithuanian business up to 87 million euros ($111.7 million) by the end of this year if the exporters failed to find the new markets.
Green member of parliament Linas Balsys voted against, insisting ritual slaughter was unethical and could breach EU regulation.
But the leader of Lithuania's Jewish community, Faina Kukliansky, welcomed the move telling AFP that it was "very important to Lithuanian Jews" amid a revival of their cultural and religious life in country, which had a large and vibrant Jewish presence prior to the Holocaust.
The Jewish and Muslim communities each number around 3,000 people in the Baltic nation of three million, which joined the European Union and NATO in 2004 and will join the eurozone in 2015.
The ancient method of ritual slaughter used by Jews and Muslims was banned in EU neighbour Poland last year after its Constitutional Court deemed it incompatible with animal rights legislation.
The Russian food embargo includes imports of meats, fruit and vegetables, fish, and dairy products from the European Union, the United States, Australia, Canada and Norway.
Set to last for a year, it covers one fifth of Lithuania's exports to Russia, or around four percent of total exports.
Blaming the ban, Lithuania's central bank has cut the country's 2014 growth forecast from 3.3 percent to 2.9 percent.
© 2014 AFP