The Dutch government said Wednesday it will study new standards for ritual slaughter to satisfy animal rights activists without infringing on ancient Jewish and Muslim traditions, and will not ban the practice outright.
A debate last week in the Senate showed that in its current form, a bill to ban ritual slaughter - which parliament passed in June - has no majority in the Upper House. The casting vote belonged to Dutch Labor's faction in the Senate, which decided to reject the bill. Labor had supported the same bill in parliament. All bills passed by parliament must be ratified by the Senate to become law.
The new announcement that a commission will be appointed to draw up a tightened regime for supervising the slaughter followed the political deadlock in the Dutch parliament. A new vote will take place in January 2012.
By a wide margin, the lower house approved a ban earlier this year on the traditional method of cutting the animal's throat without stunning it first. After an outcry that the ban would violate religious freedoms, support evaporated when the bill was sent to the upper house this month for approval.
Undersecretary for Agriculture Henk Bleker's office said the commission will draw up standards on how long animals can remain conscious and on educating slaughterers. It will include registration and quality requirements for slaughterhouses.
A small animal rights party proposed the ban and it won backing from a large anti-Islam political party and a solid majority of Dutch voters, leading to easy passage in Parliament's Second Chamber.
But Christian political parties opposed it from the start out of concern for religious minorities. After protests from Jewish and Muslim groups, both local and international, centrist parties on the left and right reversed their position in the Senate. They said reforms to slaughtering practices are a higher priority than the relatively small number of religious slaughters.
Muslims, mostly immigrants from Turkey and Morocco, represent about 1 million of the 16 million Dutch population. The once-strong Jewish community numbers around 50,000 after most were deported and killed by the Nazis during World War II.
In Judaism, dietary law prescribes that animals' throats be cut swiftly with a razor-sharp knife while they are still conscious, so that they bleed to death quickly. This means that stunning is ruled out. Most Muslims allow for the animal to be stunned first, but there are still concerns about the number of animals who might die from the stunning process before they are ritually slaughtered.
Much of the debate, extending over several years, focused on the suffering of the animal if it is conscious during the slaughter.
The Royal Dutch Veterinary Association said it believes slaughtering cattle in particular while still conscious inflicts unnecessary pain, but Jewish groups said no scientific evidence exists that a cow properly slaughtered by a trained and ordained slaughterer suffers more than if it is stunned.
Before voting in January, the Senate will review a compromise offer by Bleker, where he proposed to limit the time during which a conscious animal is allowed to die. If still alive after that period, stunning would be applied to the animal.
The government is to make it compulsory for a veterinarian to be present during the ritual slaughter of animals, Bleker also said.
Bleker said he would submit a more detailed proposal in written form in the very near future, but already the leader of the Party for Animals, Marianne Thieme, rejected his offer and announced plans to submit a second bill on slaughter to parliament.
"Dutch Cabinet: new guidelines on animal slaughter" Associated Press December 21, 2011
"No veterinarian present? Then no ritual slaughter, says minister" Dutch News December 20, 2011
Cnaan Lipshiz, "Dutch Senate delays verdict on ritual slaughter" Jerusalem Post December 21, 2011
Reproduced with permission from Islam Today