The formal opinion, delivered by advocate general Nils Wahl, found that Europe’s organic regulations do not require animals to be stunned before slaughter – only that their suffering is minimised.
The opinion follows an appeal brought by French animal rights association Œuvre d’Assistance aux bêtes d’abattoirs (OABA), which wants to exclude animals slaughtered without being stunned from making organic claims on pack. France’s Minister for Agriculture, Agrifood and Forestry and the French courts both previously rejected the OABA’s initial legal challenge. The case was referred to the ECJ by the Administrative Court of Appeal, Versailles, France.
Organic and conventional regulations work in parallel
Wahl’s judgement was based on two EU regulations governing organic production, labelling and regulation – regulation number 834/2007 and 889/2008. This exists alongside rules governing conventional animal production, in particular regulation number 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing.
Neither regulation covering organic production “expressly defines the method or methods of slaughtering animals that would meet the objectives of animal welfare or reducing animal suffering” assigned to organic production, he noted.
Article 4.1 of regulation 1099/2009, devoted to ‘stunning methods’, states that animals will only be killed after stunning and the “loss of consciousness and sensibility shall be maintained until the death of the animal”.
However, a subsequent clause of the regulation states: “In the case of animals subject to particular methods of slaughter prescribed by religious rites, the requirements of paragraph 1 shall not apply provided that the slaughter takes place in a slaughterhouse.”
Wahl concluded: “In the absence of detail as to the slaughtering methods prescribed by the legislation on organic farming, it is necessary to refer to the body of rules governing animal welfare at the time of killing… In that context, the rules governing ritual slaughter cannot be excluded.”
Wahl stressed that, while organic regulations require a higher level of animal welfare, the case did not invite the court to offer a judgement based on animal welfare concerns relating to halal or kosher slaughter methods.
Wahl also downplayed the implication that his findings might suggest that limiting halal or kosher organic certification would represent a threat to religious freedoms.
“I am by no means convinced by that argument, which, so far as the main proceedings are concerned, is based on the notion that Muslims would be subjected to a restriction of their religious freedom if it should be concluded that the certifications ‘halal’ and ‘organic farming’ could not both be applied together,” he stressed. “If it were to be concluded that ritual slaughter without stunning was prohibited in the context of organic farming, citizens of the Jewish or Muslim faith would still be able to obtain kosher or halal meat and, accordingly, the very essence of the right to religion would not be impaired. They would merely be prevented from consuming kosher or halal meat certified ‘organic farming’.”
The ECJ’s full court will now deliver a final ruling on the case. These rulings usually reflect the conclusions of the advocate general.
Controversy over no-stun slaughter
This is the latest development in an ongoing debate over the use slaughter methods that do not use stunning in Europe. These methods are controversial because of their perceived lower animal welfare standards.
Earlier this year, the ECJ found such practices could only be carried out in approved slaughterhouses. The ruling followed a challenge to a decision in Belgium’s Flanders region to ban approval being granted for temporary slaughter houses in 2014.
A group of Belgian Muslim organisations challenged this move in 2016, arguing that the regions ban on temporary halal slaughterhouses – widely used in Belgium to meet increased demand for halal meat over the festival of Eid – impinged religious freedoms.
ECJ judges said the requirement “does not infringe freedom of religion as it is only intended to organise and manage the freedom to practise ritual slaughter, taking into account the fundamental rules on the protection of animal welfare and the health of consumers of meat”.