Judgment by the Court of Justice of the European Union: Flemish ban on unstunned slaughter upheld

Judgment by the Court of Justice of the European Union: Flemish ban on unstunned slaughter upheld

17 December 2020

The Court of Justice of the European Union issued their judgment regarding the Flemish ban on unstunned slaughter: the European regulation on the killing of animals (1099/2009) allows member states to impose a ban on unstunned slaughter. The Flemish ban on unstunned slaughter does not violate European law nor the freedom of religion. The Belgium’s Constitutional Court must now deliver a final judgment that is in accordance with the judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union. “Of course, we are more than hopeful considering the Constitutional Court has to follow the decision of the European Court of Justice”, says overjoyed Michel Vandenbosch, president of GAIA. “We have always argued that the Flemish ban on unstunned slaughter, as well as the Walloon ban, are necessary to prevent any further unnecessary and avoidable animal suffering. In other words: the ban upholds a society that doesn’t confuse freedom of religion with the freedom to make animals suffer. Member states are allowed, in the interest of animal welfare, to prohibit unstunned slaughter for religious purposes. The Court of Justice clearly confirmed that.” GAIA intervened in the case in support of the Flemish Region.

On 4th April 2019, the Constitutional Court referred three preliminary questions to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. With the first question, the Constitutional Court requested whether the European Regulation on the killing of animals allowed a ban on unstunned slaughter. The second and third questions aimed to ascertain whether Flanders, in providing more protection for animals than the regulation foresees, complied with the freedom of religion. Several Jewish and Muslim associations opposed the ban on the basis of the infringement of the freedom of religion. The Court’s Advocate General issued an opinion in September stating that a ban on unstunned slaughter violates European law and the essence of the religious experience of Jews and Muslims. The Court of Justice didn’t follow that opinion. Jewish and Muslim associations opposing the ban did not succeed.

A great day for the animals

GAIA president Michel Vandenbosch: “Today is a great day for GAIA and especially for the hundreds of thousands of animals. Thanks to this decision they will (continue to) be spared from the excruciating pain of being slaughtered for religious practices without stunning. I want to thank our more than 75,000 members (and many more supporters) who have supported us to maintain this ban. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without them. After more than 25 years of campaigning to ban unstunned slaughter today is one of the best days of my life. It is quite simply outstanding that the European judges decided that sovereign member states are allowed to impose such a ban, in accordance with European law. We are delighted that the Flemish ban on unstunned slaughter, without exception for religious purposes and unanimously approved by parliament, remains in place.”

GAIA emphasizes that the judgment is excellent news for the Walloon ban on unstunned slaughter as well. At this stage, it is up to Belgium's Constitutional Court to render judgment, in compliance with the judgment of the EU Court of Justice.

Mr Anthony Godfroid, GAIA’s lawyer, who pleaded at the European Court in Luxembourg for the ban to be upheld: “The Court of Justice made the only right choice: religion is not an excuse to harm animals when technically available methods exist that prevent them from suffering, namely reversible electronarcosis. The case now remains to be settled by Belgium’s Constitutional Court which must follow the decision of the Court of Justice. It’s just a formality. In my opinion the animals have won and religious hardliners have had to back down. I pay tribute today to GAIA and the many supporters of this ban that prohibits unacceptable and unnecessary animal suffering.”

Background

In accordance with the Walloon Decree of 18th May 2017 and the Flemish Decree of 7th July 2017, slaughtering animals without prior stunning is prohibited in the Walloon and Flemish regions.

In Flanders, the unstunned slaughter ban entered into force on 1st January 2019, and later the same year on 1st September 2019 in Wallonia. In Flanders, reversible and pre-cut stunning is imposed for sheep and calves. As for cattle, reversible pre-cut stunning will become mandatory once the technique is perfected. Until then, post-cut stunning must be applied to cattle.

Several Muslim and Jewish associations contested the ban before the Constitutional Court. They argue that the ban infringes on the freedom of religion, is disproportionate and doesn’t achieve its objective of ensuring animal welfare.

On 4th April 2019, Belgium’s Constitutional Court referred three preliminary questions to the Court of Justice. The latter have now considered the matter and delivered a judgment.

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