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EU States Can Now Mandate Pre-Slaughter Stunning of Animals Without Exception

In a historic ruling for animal welfare, European Union states can now outlaw the slaughter of fully conscious animals without exception for religious ritual slaughter.
December 17, 2020

Today in a historic ruling for animals, the Court of Justice of the European Union has declared that EU member states can now choose to require the stunning of land animals before slaughter, and do not have to allow exceptions for any reason, including religious rites. 

ANIMALS SLAUGHTERED WHILE BEING FULLY AWARE: Current EU legislation states that all land animals raised for food must be rendered unconscious before being slaughtered. However, before this ruling, exceptions have been allowed in the context of some religious practices. Ritual slaughter can result in animals’ throats being slit and animals bleeding to death while fully conscious and able to feel pain. Science has proven that slaughter without stunning causes immense suffering to animals.

THE NEW RULING: In July 2019  the Flemish region of Belgium banned the slaughter of animals without prior stunning without exception, which included traditional Jewish and Muslim rites. The Belgian Constitutional Court referred the matter to the Court of Justice of the European Union for a decision as to the legality of this ban.

THE VERDICT: Today’s verdict dictates that states will now be allowed to require stunning of land animals prior to slaughter without exception. “Reversible stunning” may be used with the aim of reducing suffering of animals during slaughter carried out in the context of religious rites, a technique that, if done correctly, renders the animal unconscious yet allows for the meat to still be considered halal or kosher. 

“The Court has struck the right balance on this delicate issue. While religious discrimination should not be tolerated, laws that apply to all citizens regardless of religion – such as laws requiring pre-slaughter stunning – must be allowed to stand. Laws that protect unconsenting individuals from pain and suffering must be upheld against any legal challenge. The U.S. Supreme Court should reach a similar ruling.”

Sarah Hanneken, Legal Advocacy Counsel, Animal Equality

TRADITION IS NOT AN EXCUSE FOR CRUELTY: Eurogroup for Animals, a coalition of leading organizations including Animal Equality, has closely followed the process and in October published an opinion poll showing that 90% of European citizens are against slaughter techniques that cause suffering to animals.

“The verdict underlines that animal welfare and religious freedom can go hand in hand. The acceptance of pre-slaughter stunning by religious communities is increasing in both EU and non-EU countries. Reversible stunning makes it possible to reconcile the values ​​of religious freedom, expressed in ritual sacrifice, with concern for animal welfare under current EU legislation.”

Reineke Hameleers, Director of the Eurogroup for Animals.

WHERE IS STUNNING CURRENTLY REQUIRED BY LAW?: The Flemish Region has joined the list of countries where stunning of land animals prior to slaughter is required without exception, which includes Slovenia, Finland, Denmark, Sweden and the Walloon region of Belgium. 

WHAT ABOUT THE UNITED STATES?: In the United States, stunning before slaughter is required for some land animals—chickens are excluded—with the exception of ritual slaughter. But, even in cases where stunning is required, slaughter lines move so fast that sometimes animals are improperly stunned, leaving them conscious as their throats are slit. The only way to ensure that you’re not contributing to animal suffering is by simply leaving animals off your plate altogether. Humans can live happy, healthy lives without harming others, and with all of the great plant-based options available, going vegan is now easier than ever. 


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