By TOBY STERLING, Associated Press
AMSTERDAM (AP) — Political support for a proposed ban on slaughtering animals without stunning them first appeared to crumble Tuesday as the Dutch senate debated legislation that Muslim and Jewish groups say violates their religious rights.
The ban — proposed by an animal rights party and widely supported by Dutch voters — passed parliament’s lower house by a 116-30 margin in June, raising an international outcry from religious groups.
Although senators will not vote until Dec. 20, it appeared from Tuesday’s debate that several parties that initially backed the ban in parliament — including the Netherlands’ two largest — have changed their mind.
If the Netherlands does outlaw procedures that make meat kosher for Jews or halal for Muslims, it will be the second country after New Zealand to do so in recent years. It would join Switzerland, the Scandinavian and Baltic countries, whose bans are mostly traceable to pre-World War II anti-Semitism.
Speaking first, Labor senator Nico Schrijver said his party now has “many questions” about the bill, including asking why it “so specifically aims its arrows at the rather small number of ritual slaughterers and why not large-scale industrial slaughter, which involves 500 million animals per year?”
“It seems to me that there may be much more effective, and less far-reaching methods that achieve the same goal,” Schrijver said, citing better education for slaughterers and better conditions in slaughterhouses.
Muslims make up about one million of the 16 million Dutch population, mostly immigrants from Turkey and Morocco. The once-strong Jewish community numbers 40,000-50,000 after most were deported and killed by the Nazis during World War II.
Ritual slaughter rules prescribe that animals’ throats must be cut swiftly with a razor-sharp knife while they are still conscious, so that they bleed to death quickly.
Support for the ban comes both from left-leaning voters who see ritual slaughter as inhumane, and from social conservatives who see it as foreign and barbaric.
Though the ban was proposed by the tiny Party for the Animals, who say the practice is “outdated,” the ban’s most enthusiastic backer has been the anti-Islam Freedom Party.
“Do we want such practices in a civilized country as ours?” asked Freedom senator Marjolein Faber, after describing a worst-case scenario of a panicked animal taking six minutes to lose consciousness after a botched slaughter.
The Royal Dutch Veterinary Association says it believes that during “slaughter of cattle while conscious, and to a lesser extent that of sheep, the animals’ well-being is unacceptably harmed.”
Among the two parties in the country’s governing coalition, the Christian Democrats opposed the ban from the beginning out of concern for the rights of religious minorities.
The pro-business VVD party, the country’s largest, also now appears unlikely to support the ban.
VVD senator Sybe Schaap slammed the bill for “ethical absolutism” and said offering incentives for slaughterhouses to improve their practices would have a more positive effect than a ban.
The Dutch undersecretary for Economic Affairs Henk Blekers has said the Cabinet will only take a position on the bill after the Senate vote.
Kosher slaughter ban fails to win backing of majority in Dutch Senate
World Jewish Congress (WJC) President Ronald S. Lauder has welcomed a proposal put forward by the Dutch government which aims to find a solution to the question of kosher and halal slaughter acceptable to the local Jewish and Muslim communities, instead of banning it outright. “This is good news, and we hope that an arrangement can be found that safeguards the right of the Jewish community to practice kosher slaughter,” Lauder declared after Animal Rights Party leader Marianne Thieme’s plan to introduce a ban slaughter without prior stunning on Tuesday night had failed to make it through the Senate, the upper house of the Dutch parliament.
Deputy Minister for Agriculture Henk Bleker presented a compromise proposal to the Senate which calls for agreements with slaughterhouses and the Islamic and Jewish community on the length of time an animal is conscious before dying and the number of animals ritually slaughtered per year. The Senate asked the minister for a letter detailing his plan. Thieme dismissed Bleker’s proposal and said she would continue to advocate a complete ban.
Thieme argues that animals that are not stunned before they being killed experience extra stress and pain. Her bill calling for a ban was passed by a large majority in the lower house of parliament in June, but in the Senate only the her own Animal Rights Party, the Freedom Party of Geert Wilders and a few smaller groups came out in favor.
During the debate, the Labor Party, Christian Democrats and the orthodox Christian party were critical of the bill, asking the sponsors of the bill whether suffering of the animal would be sufficiently reduced to warrant such a severe limitation of religious freedom. At the moment, religious slaughter is permitted in the Netherlands by way of a legal exception. Many senators argued that the bill was merely token legislation, arguing that kosher (Jewish) and halal (Muslim) meat would simply be imported from abroad. In the end, it became clear that Thieme did not have a majority of the Senate behind her after the Labor Party decided to oppose the bill.
Senators also criticized the legislation because it states that if slaughterhouses can prove that animals do not undergo extra suffering they may be exempted from the ban – which in effect means a reversal of the burden of proof.
WJC President Ronald Lauder added: “We are grateful that kosher slaughter of animals, which has been continuously practiced by Jews for thousands of years and which is – contrary to the views of some activists – not a cruel practice, is now unlikely to be prohibited in the Netherlands. This is a victory of reason and religious freedom over political zeal.”
Ronnie Eisenmann, chairman of the Jewish Community of Amsterdam, said Jews are relieved “that the Senate wants us to look at improving animal welfare but that it didn’t support the proposed bill… We share the concern for animal welfare and in that sense we have respect for the efforts of Marianne Thieme. Our invitation to her to discuss the possibilities remains. A categorical rejection of the Jewish ritual slaughter is contrary to freedom of religion, as she herself acknowledges.”
Ahead of the debate, hundreds of Jews and Muslims had pleaded with senators to reject legislation banning religious slaughter. International leaders, including Lauder, had written to Dutch government ministers and parliamentarians to oppose the ban. Earlier this week, a group of leading US Congressmen from both the Republican and Democratic parties made an appeal to the Dutch Senate to reject the proposed ban. In a letter to Senate Speaker Godefridus de Graaf ten US lawmakers said they were “troubled” by the possibility of a prohibition of religious slaughter in the Netherlands.