This rule should stand, its judges have said, even if temporary demand for ritual slaughter – for instance during a religious festival – would exceed the capacity of local slaughterhouses to handle potential business.
The risk that this means certain religious communities may not be able to practise ritual slaughter to the scale they desire, prompted this precedent-setting case. It was brought by a Belgian Moslem group – Liga van Moskeeën en Islamitsche Organisaties Provincie Antwerpen – which opposed a decision by the Flemish regional animal welfare minister to stop issuing licences for temporary slaughterhouses during the three-day Muslim Feast of Sacrifice – Eid al-Adha. This takes place this year in August, when animals are ritually slaughtered without stunning and their meat cooked for family members and the poor.
Demand in the past has been so high, that permanent slaughterhouses in Flanders were not able to slaughter a sufficient number of animals, so the relevant minister approved the creation of temporary abattoirs. The Flemish government, however, was concerned that these facilities might not comply with technical quality rules within the 2009 EU regulation ‘on the protection of animals at the time of killing’ (WATOK), which apply to both ritual and standard slaughtering.
As a result, the regional government announced in 2014 it would cease approving these temporary slaughterhouses. This prompted legal action from the Moslem group, which argued the regulation was invalid as it breached the freedom of religion guaranteed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
The court, however, has disagreed, noting that the 2009 regulation specifically authorised ritual slaughter. Effectively limiting the number of approved slaughterhouses able to undertake this work during a festival did not constitute a breach of guaranteed religious rights, said the court.
“An occasional problem of lack of slaughter capacity in one region of a member state, related to the increase in demand for ritual slaughter in the space of several days on the occasion of the Feast of Sacrifice, is the result of a combination of domestic circumstances which cannot affect the validity of the regulation,” said an ECJ note.
The case will now be referred back to the Nederlandstalige rechtbank van eerste aanleg Brussel (Dutch-speaking Court of First Instance, Brussels) for a final judgement on the Flemish decision.