The bans, imposed in the two regions several years ago, were the result of a long push by animal welfare activists. But they also raised fears among Muslim and Jewish community groups that they were a cover for nationalist politicians to channel anti-immigrant sentiment. Belgium holds a general election in June, at the same time as elections to the European Parliament.
Ben Weyts, the Flemish minister responsible for animal welfare, said he was satisfied with the verdict: “Now the door is open for a ban on ritual slaughter not only in Brussels but in the whole of Europe,” Weyts, of the national-conservative New Flemish Alliance, told VRT television.
Though EU law establishes that animals can only be killed after stunning and following specific methods, it also provides for a derogation for ritual slaughter — as long as the killing takes place in a slaughterhouse. However, it does not prevent member states from imposing a broader obligation to stun animals.
Citing animal welfare concerns, the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders in 2017 outlawed the killing of animals without prior stunning, as practised by observant Muslims and Jews who eat halal or kosher meat. French-speaking Wallonia followed in 2018.
In a similar case brought by Flemish and Walloon faith groups in 2020, the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) ruled that member countries may ban the practice of ritual slaughter in order to promote animal welfare, without infringing on the rights of religious groups.
The Strasbourg-based ECHR is an international court whose role is to interpret the European Convention on Human Rights — a foundational accord on the protection of human rights and political freedoms — on behalf of the 46 member countries of the Council of Europe. The CJEU is an EU court.