(JTA) — The Muslim custom of killing sheep at temporary slaughterhouses jeopardizes all ritual slaughter in Belgium, a Cabinet minister there warned.
Ben Weyts, Belgium’s minister for animal welfare, made the warning Sunday during an interview with the VRT broadcaster about a ban that will go into effect next year throughout most of Belgium on the slaughter of conscious animals at improvised abattoirs.
The ban is believed to be designed to prevent the slaughtering of some 20,000 sheep annually at impromptu slaughterhouses operated by Muslims for their coreligionists ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday.
The practice, Weyts said, violates European Union legislation “which permits the slaughter of conscious animals only for religious reasons and in authorized slaughterhouses,” and therefore could jeopardize all slaughter of conscious animals.
“Because of motions by animal welfare organizations that hang over our heads, there is uncertainty,” Weyts said. “If they go to court, they will win right away and that will be a total situation of chaos because then only stunned animals may be slaughtered.”
Muslim and Jewish religious law both require animals be conscious when their necks are cut, a practice animal rights activists describe as being cruel.
The ban announced by Weyts is expected to have no effect on the Jewish community, which performs kosher slaughter, or shechitah, “in permanent and licensed slaughterhouses, and those are not targeted in the new legislation,” Michael Freilich, editor-in-chief of the Flemish-language Jewish monthly Joods Actueel, told JTA”.
Still, Rabbi Menachem Margolin of the European Jewish Association, a Brussels-based lobby group, vowed to fight to repeal the ban because it “endangers freedom of worship in Belgium,” he wrote in a statement.
A spokesman for the European Jewish Association told JTA, “Most of the proposed laws against ritual slaughter are usually proposed against Muslim slaughter as there are a lot more of them. But issues such as these have a tendency to turn into laws against kosher slaughter as well.”