(CN) – Muslims in the Flemish region of Belgium do not face discrimination from new rules mandating that ritual animal slaughter occur only in approved slaughterhouses, Europe’s highest court ruled Tuesday.
The Flemish regional minister set the regulation in 2015, abandoning a practice in place since 1998 where Belgium’s federal minister approved temporary slaughterhouses to accommodate demand driven by the Muslim Feast of Sacrifice.
It is common for Muslims celebrating the three-day feast to have an animal slaughtered on the first day. While some of the meat is first eaten by the family, the rest is usually donated to the poor, to neighbors or to distant family relatives.
In no longer finding temporary slaughterhouses justifiable, however, the Flemish regional minister pointed to animal-welfare reports from the European Commission that took issue with animals being killed without stunning outside a slaughterhouse.
Tuesday’s ruling emphasizes that it is the consensus among Belgium’s Muslims, as “voiced by the Council of Theologians within the Muslim Executive of Belgium, that that slaughter must be carried out without first stunning the animals.”
An Islamic group in Belgium took their challenge of the new slaughterhouse rules to Luxembourg, where an adviser to the European Court of Justice sketched out their defeat last year.
Tuesday’s ruling from the court’s Grand Chamber likewise upholds the new Flemish scheme.
“The obligation to use an approved slaughterhouse, in accordance with the technical specifications required by Regulation No 853/2004, applies in a general and neutral manner to any party that organizes slaughtering of animals and applies irrespective of any connection with a particular religion and thereby concerns in a nondiscriminatory manner all producers of meat in the European Union,” the ruling states.
Another point that the ruling emphasizes is that the policy of one region of one member state cannot be said to undermine the freedom of religion.
The referring court had highlighted the possibility that the Flemish region’s new scheme would impose a disproportionate financial burden on local Muslims, thus creating a possible religious infringement, but the court called this concern unfounded.
“The need to establish new slaughterhouses which satisfy the requirements of Regulation No 853/2004, with the risk of additional costs to be borne by the Muslim community that that would generate, results only from the alleged lack of capacity in the existing approved slaughterhouses in the Flemish Region,” the ruling states.
“Such a lack of slaughter capacity in a region of a Member State which occurs temporarily, related to the increase in demand for ritual slaughter over several days during the Feast of Sacrifice, arises from a combination of domestic circumstances which cannot affect the validity of” the EU law on protecting animals set to be killed.