Muslims and Jews unite to protest ban on ritual slaughter

THE Dutch parliament has voted to ban ritual slaughter of animals, a move strongly opposed by the country's Muslim and Jewish minorities.

The bill, brought 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 yesterday by 116 votes to 30. It must pass the upper house before becoming law.

The bill 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.

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Marianne Thieme, head of the Animal Rights Party, said: "This way of killing causes unnecessary pain to animals.

"Religious freedom cannot be unlimited. 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 one 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 country's chief rabbi, Binyomin Jacobs, said: "The very fact that there is a discussion about this is very painful for the Jewish community. Those who survived the (Second World] war remember the very first law made by the Germans in Holland was the banning of schechita, the Jewish way of slaughtering animals."

And Uca Octay of Rotterdam's Islamic University said: "We will have to import halal meat from neighbouring countries or find another way to meet the needs of the Muslim population."

The law said religious groups could continue ritual slaughter if they proved it was no more painful than stunning, but it was not clear how to do this. The Jewish community has challenged a study on animal pain which was used to support the ban.

Britain's chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, visited the Netherlands last week to lobby against the law, arguing that pre-stunning failed in up to 10 per cent of cases and that it caused more pain than the swift cutting of the throat by a razor-sharp knife.

Philip Carmel, international relations director for the Conference of European Rabbis in Brussels, stressed that the upper house of parliament could still reject the law, saying: "We believe the Dutch parliament and people, who have a history of tolerance, will see sense and make the right decision."

Dutch Muslims, mostly of Turkish and Moroccan origin, have complained they felt stigmatised by the planned ban, debated amid growing support for anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders, whose Freedom Party supported the ban.

A court cleared Mr Wilders last week of charges of hate speech against Muslims.

European Union regulations require animals to be stunned before killing but allow exceptions for ritual slaughter, which the European Court of Human Rights has ruled is a religious right.Animal rights activists insist this is inhuman.

Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland ban ritual slaughter. Swiss animal rights groups and far-right politicians have also called for a ban on imported halal and kosher meat.

Of the 500 million animals slaughtered annually for food in the Netherlands, only 1.2 million are slaughtered according to Muslim or Jewish traditions.