(Marianne Thieme, leader of the Dutch Animal Rights Party, at a goat farm in Amstelveen, the Netherlands, December 11, 2006/Koen van Weel )

The Dutch parliament voted on Tuesday to ban ritual slaughter of animals, a move strongly opposed by the country’s Muslim and Jewish minorities, but left a loophole that might let religious butchering continue. The bill by the small Animal Rights Party, the first such group in Europe to win seats in a national parliament, passed the lower house of parliament by 116 votes to 30. It must be approved by the upper house before becoming law. It stipulates that livestock must be stunned before being slaughtered, contrary to the Muslim halal and Jewish kosher laws that require animals to be fully conscious.

“This way of killing causes unnecessary pain to animals. Religious freedom cannot be unlimited,” said Marianne Thieme, head of the Animal Rights Party, said before the vote. “For us religious freedom stops where human or animal suffering begins.”

In a rare show of unity, the Netherlands’ Muslim and Jewish communities — numbering about 1 million and 40,000 respectively in a total population of 16 million — have condemned the proposed ban as a violation of their religious freedom. “The very fact that there is a discussion about this is very painful for the Jewish community,” 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.”

Uca Octay of Rotterdam’s Islamic University said: “We will have to import halal meat from neighboring countries or find another way to meet the needs of the Muslim population. Becoming vegetarian could be an option as well.”