TEL AVIV — As Belgium ushered in the New Year last night, an edict went into effect resulting in the ban of kosher slaughter in the country’s Flanders region, where about half of Belgium’s Jewish population lives.
The ordinance covers a zone that is a major exporter of meat to other European Jewish communities. It was passed by the Flemish region’s parliament in 2017, purportedly out of concern expressed by animal rights activists who argue it is more humane to “stun” animals before slaughtering them. The edict bans the slaughter of all animals not first stunned, outlawing kosher slaughter which does not allow for prior stunning.
While stunning may be more benevolent than general practices in non-religious slaughterhouses, kosher slaughter is among the most humane methods of slaughter and has some advantages for the animal over mass stunning, raising questions about the real intentions of the de facto Flanders region ban. Similar bans are under consideration in various European countries.
Contrary to depictions by activists, kosher slaughter may be more humanitarian and merciful than the actual consequences of factory “stunning,” which is designed to quickly kill animals in large quantities. The factory stunning process is aimed at rendering the animal quickly unconscious utilizing such methods as adaptive-bolt stunning devices which administer harsh blows to the animal’s skull or shoot a bolt into the brain.
Electrical stunning is commonly used on sheep, calves and pigs. It is described by Britain’s Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA) thusly: “An electrical current is passed through the animal’s brain via a large pair of tongs, causing temporary loss of consciousness. Some systems also pass the current through the heart, so the animal is not just stunned but also killed.”
For poultry, the following method of electrical stunning is utilized, the RSPCA explains: “Birds are hung upside down by their legs on metal shackles along a moving conveyor belt. They move along the production line to a stunning water bath; when the bird’s head makes contact with the water, an electrical circuit between the water bath and shackle is completed, which stuns the bird. The conveyor belt then moves the birds to a mechanical neck cutter, which cuts the major blood vessels in the neck.”
In mass slaughter conditions, things do not always go as planned and some animals need to be stunned multiple times or the stunning is inadvertently skipped. In stunning, the animals witness the process on other animals while they are crammed in line under stressful conditions to be factory stunned.
By contrast, kosher slaughter allows for only one animal at a time to be quickly killed by an expert, and no animal can witness the death of another animal.
As far as the method, kosher slaughter, known as shechita, is designed for rapid and humane practice with the goal of limiting animal suffering.
The Jewish website Aish.com explains:
Ironically, given all the smears being made about the kosher method of killing animals for food, shechita is among the most humane. In shechita, only animals that are healthy and uninjured are used for food. A specially trained butcher called a shochet, who has trained extensively, makes a rapid incision with an instrument that is surgically sharp across an animal’s neck, severing all the major blood vessels and structures in one instantaneous moment. This causes the animal to become unconscious immediately and results in a quick, near-painless death.
Some have argued that the ban and similar legislation being debated across Europe may be aimed at the influx of Muslim migrants, since halal also requires the animal to be slaughtered while alive although Islamic slaughter has fewer rules than its Jewish counterpart.
While the Flanders region singled out slaughter, the country still allows for the hunting of animals in the wild. The ban touches a raw nerve for Europe’s Jews, already facing an uptick in anti-Semitic incidents across the region.
Besides impacting Muslims, such bans have an immediate effect on observant Jews who can only eat kosher meat. Many European communities are supplied kosher meat by Jewish slaughterhouses in Antwerp, part of the region where kosher slaughter is now banned. Unlike the Flanders region, several other European countries that banned slaughter without prior stunning or sedation maintain exemptions for humane ritual slaughter.
Brussels-based European Jewish Association spokesman Alex Benjamin explained that the new ordinance sends a negative signal to the local Jewish community. “Either unwittingly or wittingly, it has a negative effect,” he said. “It sends a signal to the Jewish population here … that we don’t really respect you or your practices.”
Rabbi Menachem Margolin, chairman of the Europe Jewish Association, suggested the ban smears kosher slaughter as inhumane when it is known to be the opposite.
“To have the government interfere in this way is damaging to the reputation of the Jewish people as a community. It implies that we as a group are irresponsible with the welfare of animals and need government supervision, which is, of course, a very negative view of us,” he stated.
For some, the Flemish move is eerily reminiscent of a Nazi-era ban that utilized the same method of requiring stunning before slaughter.
Haaretz previously recalled:
On April 21, 1933, Nazi Germany enacted a law that had the effect of outlawing kosher slaughter in the country. The law did not actually mention Jews or shechita (kosher slaughter); instead, it prohibited the killing of animals for food if they hadn’t first been stunned or anesthetized. Because kosher slaughter requires that the animal be conscious at the time it is killed, it no longer conformed to the law.
As Europe wrestles with newfound challenges, the continent must ensure the safety of all of its citizens and fight to maintain its democratic character, which should include the right of such religious practices as humane ritual slaughter.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.