A Belgian court has referred an appeal against the country’s kosher slaughter ban to the European Court of Justice to ask whether it is compatible with EU law.
Judges decided on Thursday to ask the ECJ to offer a non-binding opinion then refer it back to the Belgian Constitutional Court to rule again, after lawyers acting for the Coordinating Committee of Jewish Organizations in Belgium (CCOJB) challenged it.
Politicians in Wallonia and Flanders, Belgium’s two regional assemblies, voted to ban non-stun slaughter on animal welfare grounds in 2017, joining Iceland, Estonia, Sweden, Switzerland and Denmark in doing so. The ban came into effect this year.
Jewish groups say the European Court of Human Rights has previously described kosher slaughter as “an essential aspect of practice of the Jewish religion” and launched the lawsuit backed by the US-based Lawfare Project, which funds legal cases concerning Jewish interests around the world.
In January, lawyers for the CCOJB evoked memories of the Holocaust in their argument, telling the Belgian court that the Nazi ban on kosher slaughter “was one of their first legislative assaults of German Jews”.
This week CCOJB president Yohan Benizri said the battle would now be fought in Luxembourg, where the ECJ is based.
“I regret that the Constitutional Court has not already annulled these decrees on the basis of our fundamental principles, but our arguments have all the same carried through,” he said.
“No-one can say that this law was above suspicion. On the contrary, it raises a serious question of compatibility with European law. The battle will continue in Luxembourg.”
The Lawfare Project’s director Brooke Goldstein said the ban was “shameful and vindictive,” adding: “We will continue to fight this bigotry and discrimination in the European courts.”
The ban is supported by the British Veterinary Assocition, which said it “would like to see all animals stunned before slaughter… This has nothing to do with the expression of religious beliefs, but is about reducing the welfare harm of non-stun slaughter”.
It added: “If slaughter without stunning continues to be permitted in the UK, then meat and fish from this source must be clearly labelled, to help customers make informed choices about the food that they buy and eat.”