FaithWorld

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

(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.

Dutch vote to ban ritual animal slaughter, Jews and Muslims unite in protest

(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.”