The Dutch parliament voted Tuesday to ban the slaughter of livestock without stunning, or anesthetizing, the animals first, in a move that would make Islamic halal and Jewish kosher methods of butchering animals illegal.
The bill, proposed by the Party for the Animals, the first animal-rights group that is represented in a European legislature, passed the lower house of parliament by 116 votes to 30. It still must be approved by the upper house before becoming law, according to Reuters.
In a rare display of unity, Jews and Muslims strongly denounced the move as a violation of religious freedom. If the law is enacted and enforced, it's likely that observant Jews and Muslims, who butcher animals according to stringent centuries-old rules, would have to import meat from abroad, stop eating it altogether, or leave the country, the Australian reported.
The Netherlands is home to about one million Muslims, mostly immigrants from Turkey and Morocco, while the Jewish community numbers 40,000-50,000.
The vote came after months of bitter debate in the Netherlands over the apparent contradiction between the country’s tradition of religious tolerance and its concerns about animal welfare, according to the Financial Times. Observant Jews and Muslims denounced it as the latest in a series of what were perceived as European anti-Islamic initiatives such as the French ban on wearing veils in public and the Swiss ban on minarets. In this case, the issue would affect traditional Jewish practices as well.
According to Reuters:
Netherlands Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs told Reuters. “Those who survived the (second world) war remember the very first law made by the Germans in Holland was the banning of schechita or the Jewish way of slaughtering animals.”
The law got support from centrist parties on secular scientific grounds, and from the far-right Party for Freedom of Geert Wilders, an anti-Islamic group.
Marianne Thieme, leader of the Party for the Animals, denied that the law had any anti-religious intent. Supporters said scientific studies showed that modern methods of anesthetizing or stunning animals before slaughter resulted in less suffering than traditional religious methods. Stunning animals has been required in the EU and North America for decades, but religious slaughterers are exempt from that requirement.
The law does have a possible loophole, saying that ritual slaughter would be allowed if it could be proved that it was no more painful than stunning, but it's unclear how that could be proven, according to Reuters. The Jewish community has challenged the studies on animal pain that supporters of the law used to support the ban.
If the Netherlands goes ahead with the law, which will effectively ban traditional practices that make meat kosher for Jews or halal for Muslims, it will be the second country after New Zealand to do so in recent years. Switzerland and the Scandinavian and Baltic countries all have bans in place that are mostly traceable to pre-World War II anti-Semitism, according to the Australian.