Unstunned slaughter and EU law. Wahl AG finds no justification for total ban.

A post suited to be this year’s last, given the religious context of the current holiday period: Wahl AG advised late November in C-426/16. See my previous posts on the issue. A European Regulation (1099/2009) provides for an unclear, and conditional,  exemption from a requirement of stunning animals for religious slaughter. (Regularly the practise is also called ‘ritual’; including in current Opinion. ‘Religious’ must be the preferred term).

Practised in particular by the Jewish (Shechita; leading to ‘kosher’ meat) and Muslim (Zabihah; with halal meat) faith, a core aspect of the practice is that animals are not stunned prior to slaughter. The science on the effect of stunned or unstunned slaughter is equivocal. What is certain is that neither stunned nor unstunned slaughter, when carried out incorrectly (well documented in the case of stunned slaughter) aids the welfare of the animal.

The Flemish Minister responsible for animal welfare announced that, from 2015 onwards, he would no longer issue approvals for temporary slaughter plants at which religious slaughtering could be practised during the Islamic Feast of the Sacrifice because such approvals in his view were contrary to EU legislation, in particular the provisions of Regulation 1099/2009. The muslim community objects to the discontinuation of temporary slaughter plants.

The Advocate-General’s Opinion is lengthy, and there is a lot to chew on.  There is little point in rehashing all the AG’s points: readers are best referred to the Opinion itself. Of note however is

  • Firstly, the AG’s attempt strictly to delineate the issue.

The case he suggests is simply about what material conditions, in terms of equipment and operating obligations, must accompany unstunned slaughter in order for it to comply with the relevant EU rules. He suggests a rephrasing of the referring court’s questions in that direction. Along these lines he also in substance refuses to entertain the questions as to the validity of Regulation 1099/2009 itself, or the exemption from the duty to use approved slaughterhouses under the Regulation’s ‘cultural’ exception. (See footnote 13). In my view the Regulation is very vulnerable on this issue: sporting and cultural events are entirely excluded from its scope of application; religious rites are subject to a qualified exemption. That to me cannot survive a discrimination test.

The Brussels court had given the case a much wider scope: it suggested that the contested Flemish decision creates a limitation on the exercise of freedom of religion and undermines Belgian customs relating to religious rites, since it obliges Muslims to perform the ritual slaughter of the Islamic Feast of the Sacrifice in slaughterhouses that have been approved in accordance with Regulation No 853/2004. In the opinion of that court, this limitation is neither relevant nor proportionate in order to attain the legitimate objective of protecting the welfare of animals and human health (at 20). The AG however sees no limitation of freedom of religion at all, resulting from the general obligation to use approved slaughterhouses.

  • Despite the attempt at delineation, the background to the case is undeniable and filters through in the Opinion.

If only because the AG has to complete the analysis should the CJEU disagree with his view that freedom of religion is not being limited, he does review the legality of a total ban on slaughtering other than in plants that have been approved in accordance with the rules established in Annex III to Regulation No 853/2004.

First of all he refers to European Commission audits of the previously approved temporary slaughterhouses to make the point that they protected animal welfare sufficiently. He directly criticises the Regulation for its arguably disproportionate criteria in this respect: see in particular at 127.

Religious slaughter falls squarely within the European Convention of Human Rights Article 9’s freedom of religious expression. It is clear that the AG believes that the ban on unstunned slaughter other than in approved abattoirs, in the name of animal welfare or otherwise,  offends freedom of religious expression to such a degree that it simply must not pass: para 133 and the preceding argumentation is very clear.

The AG’s reasoning holds all the more for a total ban un unstunned slaughter full stop. That is the clear implication of this Opinion and one which must be welcomed.

Guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr!

Geert.

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