Guestview: Ritual slaughter ban reflects fights over food and faith in the Netherlands

June 30, 2011

(A halal butcher in Geneva, August 23, 2010/Denis Balibouse)

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Martijn de Koning is a Dutch anthropologist in the Faculty of Religious Studies at Radboud University in Nijmegen. This is an shortened version of an analysis originally posted on his blog CLOSER.

By Martijn de Koning

The Dutch parliament has voted to ban ritual animal slaughter. In a proposal condemned by Muslim and Jewish organisations, the Party for the Animals wanted a complete ban on dhabiha and shechita — the ritual slaughtering by Muslims and Jews — in cases where the animals were not stunned before being killed. The ban will mostly affect orthodox Jews since all of the shechita slaughtering involves animals fully conscious, while in the case of dhabiba this is the case in only 25%-40%. In order to get this bill passed through the lower house of parliament (a second vote is necessary in the Senate), a compromise was established: Jewish and Muslim communities have a year to provide evidence that animals slaughtered by dhabiba and shechita (and not stunning them) do not experience more pain than those animals that are stunned before killing.

In the recent Dutch debates about ritual slaughter, food has become a field where people battle over political, religious, economic, social and animal welfare issues.  I do not think it is that speculative to say that the Animal Party has profitted from three major developments in Dutch society.

1. First of all, the animosity towards ritual slaughter is clearly related to the animosity about Islam. When the proposal for the bill was mentioned for the first time, the debate was about Islam and not about Jews.

2. Second, the proposal and parliamentary vote signal a change in the relation between the religious and the secular. With the current compromise, the burden of proof is not on the state but on religous communities that ritual slaughter does not lead to greater pain than stunning. Given the evidence on that issue right now, and the fact they have to show that something ‘is not’ (i.e. prove a negative), this will be an almost impossible endeavour.

(A sign reading "Kosher ghetto restaurant, here is real Jewish Roman cooking" outside a Jewish restaurant in Rome, January 9, 2009/Alessandro Bianchi)

In the voting in parliament, the support for the Jewish and Muslim communities came largely from the three Christian parties who voted unanimously against the law. For some, this is the victory of modernity and secular society over ancient or even backward religion, for the other it is attacking the freedom of religion in society. Not all Muslims and Jews prefer the old way of slaughter, but it appears that all of them are against the new law. The pro-ban side has been described as supporters of the Freedom Party of Geert Wilders, but the reality is more complex. Wilders struggled with this issue since not only that Muslims will be targeted, but also Jews. The Freedom Party wants to uphold an image as defenders of the Jewish community and Israel.  One idea somehow got lost in the debates about this bill — that there may be people who are not anti-religion in general or anti-Islam in particular, but support the ban because they think animal welfare is more important that religious convictions.

3. A third development may signal a trend already been set in motion when the Party for the Animals was elected in parliament several years ago. Although environmentalists are not generally held in high regard by the more rightist political parties and their constuencies, the Party for the Animals is seen as a decent, somewhat atypical party that deserves respect for its quest on animal rights. There seems to be a strong place for animal rights in Dutch society, as long as it appears decent, not too left wing and outside the circles of the established parties. This party is too small (with only two seats of out 150 in the lower house of parliament) to have actual power,  but with the right timing they can gain momentum and accomplish things that would otherwise have been impossible. In the past, religious groups had considerable autonomy and the case of ritual slaughter is partly a remnant of that system. But the Party for the Animals has now succeeded in putting animal rights first and making the regulations more state-centered.

(Packages of Halal food in a supermarket in Nantes, western France, September 7, 2010/Stephane Mahe)

The debate over ritual slaughtering is not over yet. Given the compromise, we may have the same debate next year over the question if ritual slaughtering is good for animals. The bill has still to pass the Senate. Both the supporters of the ban and its opponents will continue their campaigns, which will probably revolve around the three developments I have mentioned here. Until then we have some time to catch up with reading about the importance of food:

Here is a Radio Netherlands video about the controversy: Ritual Slaughter Controversy Unites Jews, Muslims door NewsLook


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How wonderfully fitting that Europeans, who have expert knowledge of barbarism and brutality, should be so willing to share their expertise with stubbornly less advanced citizens. Good on the Netherlands for promulgating a law so conspicuously evidence based – countless studies, we are confident, support the conclusion that ‘stunning’ animals, (even stunning them several times if the first stunning doesn’t take), is completely painless.

Next a move to stun male children before the circumcision. Ah progress!


Posted by Nanoose | Report as abusive

If the Dutch government bans ritual slaughter it will be in violation of religious freedom. There is no way a violation can be allowed as an exception to religious freedom, short of just general laws applying to all for the general welfare laws that just happen to sometimes impinge on religion. If there is something they wish to ban about ritual slaughter it will have to be a spelled out and banned for all. To do otherwise will show America superior to Holland when it comes to freedom of religion and this in a land that was a refuge for Jews freeing inquisition and massacre both for their lives and their religious freedom.

Posted by YDSA | Report as abusive

Murdering animals, be they human or not, should be illegal; stopping the most painful murders first is certainly a step in the right direction… of course, if it starts a world war that would be worse, but in realistic terms, outlawing the torturous murder of fellow mammals (who are conscious like human children are) is excellent.

Posted by TobySaunders | Report as abusive

To suggest that repugnant acts are beyond question only because someone invokes the magical word religion is preposterous! Cruel and barbaric behavior should not be allowed to hide behind the shield of religious freedom any longer! And what rational person believes that the blood of sacrificial animals appeases their god???

Posted by Shewolf666 | Report as abusive

[…] Guestview: Ritual slaughter ban reflects fights over food and faith in the Netherlands | FaithWorld In the recent Dutch debates about ritual slaughter, food has become a field where people battle over political, religious, economic, social and animal welfare issues. I do not think it is that speculative to say that the Animal Party has profitted from three major developments in Dutch society. […]

Posted by C L O S E R » Blog Archive » Closing the week 35 – Featuring the politics of food, fasting and feasting | Report as abusive