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Animal rights vs. religious freedoms

By Leslie Ballentine, Farm and Food commentator

In December a plan for an outright ban on ritual slaughter methods in the Netherlands failed to pass the Dutch Senate. The bill and the issues surrounding it garnered world-wide attention by Jewish and Islamic communities, the meat processing and retail sectors, and animal activists. Government diplomats also became involved.

Animal Rights Party leader Marianne Thieme wants religious slaughter banned because the animals aren’t stunned before being killed. Under Jewish and Muslim religious law one of the requirements is that an animal be conscious when its throat is cut. A practice that the sound science shows can be done as or more humanely than conventional slaughter methods.

Although well intentioned, it is sad that a country like Holland with such a long history of religious freedom should be the first country since the Nazi era to actually vote a ban on religious slaughter. All of the other European bans (except for Switzerland, which was done in a bout of anti-Semitism in the 1890s) were done before World War II in countries with Nazi sympathies. A fact never mentioned in the year-long media attention paid to the Dutch bill. Today, no EU member country prohibits religious slaughter. The Netherlands would have been the first.

So how did this come about?

Holland is the first country in Europe to elect members of an animal activist group to their parliament. The Party for the Animals has two seats in the Lower House and has exercised its right in submitting a large number of bills. One of the few that has had any traction was the bill to ban religious slaughter which passed the lower house in June 2011 with strong support from the far-right anti-Islamic Freedom Party.  A world-wide lobbying campaign ensued. The vote in the Dutch Parliament reflected both a very inaccurate view of religious slaughter and a high degree of Islamophobia and some anti-Semitism.

In an op-ed at Radio Netherlands Worldwide, Party for Animals leader Marianne Thieme  wrote that “anyone who practices a religion has the right to their own religious truths” and then argued that “it is the task of the government to intervene and curb the freedom of religion” in order to preserve an animal or human’s welfare. Opponents argued the legislation would violate the “protections of religious practices “guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights.”

The kosher and halal markets are very small in Holland but are growing in many parts of the World, including in North America. Had the law passed it would have had international implications. Not only for Jews, Muslims and the many other consumers of these products but also for religious freedoms in general, and arguably for the animals themselves.

While credible research on religious slaughter is limited, world renowned experts such as Dr. Temple Grandin and Dr. Joe Regenstein were drowned out by a world-wide lobby effort by supporters of the Dutch ban.

“If one reads about Dr. Grandin’s experience with kosher slaughter, we may find when the research is done right that religious slaughter may in fact have the highest level of animal welfare,” says Dr. Regenstein, professor in the Department of Food Science at Cornell University. Dr. Regenstein, who has specialized in religious slaughter methods for more than 30 years, says the debate is coloured by religious intolerance and poor data driven by a political agenda to restrict the use of animals. “We have some very fine operators both in the secular and religious communities… with a high level of animal welfare. Other facilities are still in need of improvement,” he says. 

When animal rights trump our religious freedoms it is less about improving animal welfare and much more an erosion of human liberty and tolerance.

Until the Next Blog


Posted by FFC on February 13th, 2012 :: Filed under Activism,animal handling,Food,Meat/slaughter plants,Regulations
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2 Responses to “Animal rights vs. religious freedoms”

  1. Rosemary Marshall
    February 14th, 2012

    So, religious freedom above all care for suffering sentient beings, which have evolved in the same way as ourselves.

    Perhaps that is why I find so much wrong with religion.

  2. Rob Wallbridge
    February 16th, 2012

    Hi Rosemary,

    I’d suggest that you re-read the second-to-last paragraph: there’s no need for contradiction between religious practices and animal welfare. In fact, religious practices may have been informed by animal welfare concerns.

    I’m inclined to believe that far greater harm has been done by those worshiping at the altar of short-term economic profitability than those guided by their religious faith.

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