The Dutch Parliament will vote Tuesday on a law that could create a rift between its animal rights community and Muslim and Jewish minorities. The law would prescribe humane slaughter for all animals, regardless of ritual conventions, essentially eliminating kosher and halal slaughter. Muslim and Jewish communities are understandably upset, and see the move as a sign of religious intolerance, but the animal rights activists who proposed the legislation see it as an extension of the Netherlands’ progressive ethical legislation. The issue is complicated by the fact that the bill was sponsored by a tiny animal rights party, which only has two seats in the legislature. It’s being supported, however, by the Liberal and Labour parties.
According to the New York Times, the Jewish community is better organized than Holland’s Muslims in their opposition to the bill. They see their rights as a religious minority as threatened in the Netherlands’ increasingly secular society. And although the lawmakers made a concession to religious groups by saying that if they could prove that their slaughter practices cause no more pain than industrial slaughtering, they can have a license for five years. But although the animal rights activists are citing scientific evidence that stunning animals before killing them reduces their suffering, it’s hard to imagine how Jewish and Muslim butchers would go about proving this.
“This is not about animal rights,” Joe M. Regenstein of Cornell University told the NYT. “It’s an invitation to Jews and Muslims to leave.” He added that well-practiced kosher and halal slaughter can be as humane as the proposed nonreligious standards.
Marianne Thieme, one of the bill’s supporters, says that religious objections should be set aside to protect the animals. There is, she said, “worldwide consensus among scientists that animals suffer terrible if they are not first stunned before slaughter.” She compared the struggle to women’s rights. The Netherlands is notorious for its lawmakers’ demands to ban headscarves and veils for Muslim women. ”Here in our society we no longer accept that animals must suffer,” said Thieme. ”We saw the same thing with women’s rights.”
But others are saying that the animal rights party – and the Dutch Parliament as a whole – have not given consideration to how kosher and halal butchers can preserve their ritual slaughter while still minimizing pain. According to the Financial Times, “kosher slaughterers say their rules are intended precisely to prevent suffering.” And some Muslim halal butchers have attempted Europe-wide conferences on improving halal standards. And as an op-ed writer for a Dutch newspaper pointed out, hunting is legal in the Netherlands, despite the fact that it also inflicts significant pain on animals.
If this law passes, it will send a clear message to the Jewish and Muslim communities in the Netherlands, but not one about animal rights. If the Dutch care about preserving religious minorities’ freedoms, they will make more of an effort to investigate humane kosher and halal slaughtering methods, and take into consideration the fact that these methods of slaughter are integral parts of the two religious traditions.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.