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EU legal expert opposes Flemish ban on ritual slaughter

The top legal adviser to the European Court said Thursday a move by Belgium’s Flemish region to ban the slaughter of livestock that have not been stunned contravenes EU law.

The advice from the Advocate General is not binding on the court but it is influential and the statement was welcomed by Jewish groups who saw the law — billed as an animal rights measure — as an attack on religious tradition and ritual.

Belgium’s Flanders regional government issued a ruling in 2017 that went into effect in 2019 that abattoirs must stun livestock before slaughtering them.

The argument was made that this would “reduce their suffering” but it was widely perceived as being a measure targeted at the Muslim halal tradition, and that also effectively banned Jewish kosher ritual.

In his opinion, Advocate General Gerard Hogan argued the court must take into account the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which guarantees religious liberty.

And he noted that there is a derogation in EU animal welfare law that MEPs passed to “guarantee the entitlement of those of certain religious faiths to preserve essential religious rites and to consume meat of animals which have been slaughtered in this religiously prescribed fashion”.

“There is no avoiding the fact that the preservation of the religious rites of animal slaughter often sits uneasily with modern conceptions of animal welfare,” Hogan wrote.

“The derogation is, nevertheless, a policy choice which the EU legislature was certainly entitled to take.”

Rabbi Menachem Margolin, chairman of the European Jewish Association, hailed the opinion, and said he hoped the court would adopt in when it makes a ruling next month.

“This Opinion is an important milestone in the protection of religious freedom in the European Union and comes at a welcome time considering the rise in anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish rhetoric in the continent,” he said.

“It is of extreme importance that Jews and Muslims are allowed to profess their faith without fear of repercussions or of being singled out.”