“Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made” is a quote widely attributed to German statesman Otto von Bismarck. It is not a wise perception. If, like laws, we want sausages, then it is paramount we see how they are made, starting from the rearing of the animal, via the transport to and processing in abattoirs, through to food processing.
In Case C-497/17, Oeuvre d’assistance aux bêtes d’abattoirs the Court held that the particular methods of slaughter prescribed by religious rites that are carried out without pre-stunning and that are permitted by Article 4(4) of Regulation No 1099/2009 (on which more here) are not tantamount, in terms of ensuring a high level of animal welfare at the time of killing, to slaughter with pre-stunning which is, in principle, required by Article 4(1) of that regulation. No organic label under Council Regulation 834/2007 and Commission implementing Regulation 889/2008 may therefore be attached to said meat.
The AG had opined the matter is outside the scope of harmonisation of the organic labelling rules. The CJEU however essentially employs Regulation 1099/2009 as a conjoined piece of law and holds that organic labelling must not be assigned to meat originating from animals unstunned prior to slaughter.
The Court is wrong.
At 41 the Court itself acknowledges that ‘no provision of Regulation No 834/2007 or Regulation No 889/2008 expressly defines the method or methods for the slaughtering of animals that are most appropriate to minimise animal suffering and, consequently, to give concrete expression to the objective of ensuring a high level of animal welfare’.
At 47, the Court refers to Wahl AG’s statement in para 43 of his opinion, suggesting the AG ‘ stated, in essence, in point 43 of his Opinion, scientific studies have shown that pre-stunning is the technique that compromises animal welfare the least at the time of killing.’
What the AG actually said is ‘In the first place, it seems to me to be accepted that, while every killing is problematic from the viewpoint of animal welfare, the use of pre-stunning methods when animals are slaughtered may, at least in theory, and as a considerable number of scientific studies show, [FN omitted, GAVC] help to minimise that suffering when those methods are used in the proper conditions. that unstunned slaughter, properly carried out, meets with the ethos of organic farming.’ (emphasis added).
The AG in footnote refers to 2 studies in particular (he suggests there are more). Other studies show the exact opposite. Yet the wider relevance of what he opined lies in the ‘slaughter in the books’ admission. ‘In theory at least’ a perfectly carried out pre-slaughter stun minimises pain. That is very much the same with a perfectly carried out shechita or zabihah incision, particularly where it is carried out with the religiously-inspired stewardship ethos in mind.
In practice, pre-stunning goes horribly wrong in a considerable amount of cases for small and large animals alike. I am not the only one to have witnessed that. And as frequently occurring footage of abattoirs shows, there is little respect for animal welfare in commercial abattoirs, regardless of an eventual stun or not.
Of wider relevance in my view therefore is the problematic enforcement by certification bodies of generally formulated standards – admittedly not an issue that may be solved by a court case.
Consider Wahl AG’s point made at 45 of his Opinion: ‘the certification ‘halal’ says very little about the slaughtering method actually employed.’ That is exactly the same for pre-stunning. The EU but more particularly its Member States and regions (which given subsidiarity ought to have a big say in this) will not achieve animal welfare if they do not properly address the wider relationship between food professional and animal, between upscale agro-industry and mass meat production.
Finally and evidently, this case is of no consequence to the acceptability of unstunned slaughter from the point of view of expression of freedom of religion.