Brussels scraps proposal to ban kosher and halal meat

Jews and Muslims in central region of Belgium to continue their traditional slaughtering procedures after close vote.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Brussels’ regional parliament voted down a bill proposing a ban on kosher and halal slaughtering in a close vote Friday, leaving the central region as the only one in Belgium that still allows the practice.

The vote was 42-38, with eight legislators abstaining and one not present. Had the bill passed, parliament would have then had to vote again on whether to outlaw the traditional Jewish and Muslim slaughtering procedures.

Animal rights proponents insist that animals be stunned and rendered unconscious with an electric shock applied to the head before slaughtering, a practice which would render the meat unkosher and non-halal.

Jewish and Muslim groups have been fighting against such proposals for years in Belgium, losing in the southern Walloon Region in 2017 and northern Flanders Region in 2019.

In December 2020, the European Union’s highest court confirmed these regions’ right to ban the ritual practice, going so far as to state that the two major religions should find a way for their followers to practice their faith in direct contradiction to their beliefs.

Shimon Cohen, Campaign Director of Shechita UK, one of the British Jewish leaders in the fight to preserve the religious right to kosher slaughter on the Continent as well as Great Britain, welcomed the vote.

“Previous bans in Wallonia and Flanders greatly inhibited the religious Jewish communities in those areas, blatantly and worryingly disregarding their religious freedoms,” he said.

“In order for a country to be said to value and adhere to human rights, they must, by definition, allow Jewish religious communities to maintain their religious lifestyle.”

Although it comprises only 162 square kilometers (62.7 sq. miles), the Brussels-Capital Region is the seat of the European Union, giving its laws symbolic importance in Western Europe. This sense was reflected in the relieved reaction of leading Orthodox Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the president of the Conference of European Rabbis.

“These unsolicited bans have a dark historical precedent,” he said in a statement. “Rather than ushering in a future of increased animal welfare, these alarmingly legislative prohibitions are instead a harsh, destructive step backwards.”

“The vote of the Brussels regional Parliament on Friday, declaring that these religious methods of slaughter are not illegal thereby restores such religious rights in the country.

Most of the 30,000-strong Jewish community in the federated state live in Flemish Antwerp and the Brussels-Capital Region. While most Jews in Brussels are secular, according to the American Jewish Committee, Antwerp is home to one of the largest ultra-Orthodox communities in Europe, and has already had to resort to importing meat.

Halal and kosher slaughter are already banned in Greece, Denmark, Slovenia, Estonia, Finland and Sweden. About a decade ago, both the Netherlands and Poland outlawed the religious practice before reversing themselves based on the right to freedom of worship.