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Dutch MPs effectively ban ritual slaughter of animals

image captionMuslim and Jewish communities said the legislation infringed on their religious freedom

The Dutch lower house of parliament has passed a law effectively banning the ritual slaughter of animals, in a move condemned by Muslim and Jewish groups.

The legislation states that all animals must be stunned before being killed.

But the Islamic dhabiha and Jewish shechita methods of ritual slaughter require them to be fully conscious.

The legislation was proposed by an animal rights party with two MPs, which argued that failing to stun the animals subjected them to unnecessary pain.

But debate over the matter swiftly became a focus of animosity towards the Netherlands' 1.2 million-strong Muslim community. The country's Jewish population is comparatively small at 50,000.

Following months of debate a last minute concession was offered - the Muslim and Jewish communities will have a year to provide evidence that animals slaughtered by traditional methods do not experience greater pain than those that are stunned before they are killed.

However, observers say finding such proof will be virtually impossible.

The bill must still be approved by the upper house of parliament before it can become law.

Religious freedom

Before Tuesday's vote, the head of the Party for the Animals, Marianne Thieme, denied the bill was an attack on religious minorities.

She argued the law was necessary because scientists agreed that animals suffered pain or fear if they were not stunned before slaughter, and because current regulations allowed exceptions for ritual slaughter.

"If you stun an animal before it's been killed, the animal won't experience its own death," she told the BBC World Service. "If you have new techniques to ensure there's no unnecessary suffering then you have to use it."

"Three-thousand years ago, there were no anaesthetics," she added. "But since then we have developed more humane methods."

In a rare show of unity, the Muslim and Jewish communities condemned the legislation and said it infringed on their religious freedom.

"One of the first measures taken during the Occupation [by Nazi Germany during World War II] was the closing of kosher abattoirs," Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs told MPs during a debate in The Hague.

"If we no longer have people who can do ritual slaughter in the Netherlands, we will stop eating meat," he added.

The Party for the Animals said two million animals were subjected to ritual slaughter every year in the Netherlands, although the organisation Halal Correct said only 250,000 were killed without being stunned beforehand.

To make meat kosher for Jews or halal for Muslims, animals must be slaughtered while still awake, by swiftly cutting the main arteries and veins in their necks with sharp knives, and then allowing the blood to drain out.

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