Flemish law prohibiting slaughter of animals without prior stunning in religious-prescribed rites is contrary to EU law: AG Hogan’s Opinion
Advocate General Hogan has delivered his Opinion in Centraal Israëlitisch Consistorie van België and Others (C-336/19), a case stemming from a request for a preliminary ruling by the Belgian Constitutional Court on the interpretation of Article 26(2)(c) of Regulation 1099/2009 with Articles 10(1) (freedom of religion), 20 and 21 (right to equality and non-discrimination), and Article 22 (religious freedom) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Under Article 26(2) of Regulation 1099/2009, Member States may apply stricter national measures aimed at ensuring more extensive protection of animals at the time of killing in the field of, inter alia, the slaughtering of animals subject to particular methods prescribed by religious rites. However, Article 4(4) establishes a derogation for the stunning requirement in religious-prescribed slaughtering, provided it takes place in a slaughterhouse.
In 2017, the Flemish Government issued a decree which had the effect of prohibiting the slaughtering of animals by means of traditional Jewish and Muslim rites and requiring that such animals be stunned prior to slaughter in order to reduce their suffering. Various Jewish and Muslim associations challenged this decree seeking its total or partial annulment, resulting in the Belgian Constitutional Court referring the case to the Court of Justice.
In his Opinion, AG Hogan proposes that the Court rule that Member States cannot adopt rules that either prohibit animal slaughter without prior stunning in the context of a religious rite or alternative stunning procedures based on reversible stunning on the condition that it does not result in the death of the animal, also in the context of animal slaughter under religious prescriptions. The Advocate General notes that the Article 4(4) derogation was a policy choice made by the EU legislature in order to respect the freedom of religion and the right to manifest religious beliefs, and that Member States cannot quasi-eliminate the practice of ritual slaughter without prior stunning.
Recalling the Court’s Liga van Moskeeën en Islamitische Organisaties Provincie Antwerpen and Others (C-426/16) judgment, AG Hogan states that the derogation must be interpreted strictly in order to protect animals at the time of killing to the greatest possible degree while at the same time ensuring religious freedom. Thus, technical conditions seeking to minimise the suffering of animals at the time of killing and ensure the health of all consumers of meat which are neutral and non-discriminatory may be imposed on the freedom to carry out slaughter without prior stunning for religious purposes in order to organise and manage that slaughter.
The Opinion is available here.