Eid al-adha is a Muslim religious holiday otherwise known as the Feast of the Slaughter/Sacrifice. It runs concurrently with the Hajj, an annual muslim pilgrimage that all muslims must complete at least once in their lives. In 2017 Eid al-adha takes place September 1st and 2nd.
But many animal rights groups, most notably Gaia, who you may have seen protesting in Brussels these last couple days, are taking issue with one of the fundamental components of this holiday. Eid al-adha requires practicants to sacrifice a lamb, and according to the Koran this must be done in such a way that the animal is healthy and alive when slaughtered (Halal). This means that the animal is not pre-stunned before slaughter, thus not reducing the suffering of the animal at the time of death.
As a result of public backlash the governments of both Flanders and Wallonia have passed legislation to ban non pre-stunned slaughter in Belgium, and therein lies the controversy as the Jewish and Muslim communities have argued that the ban undeniably deprives them of their religious rights, accusing lawmakers of pandering to a rash of anti-islamic and jewish sentiments currently sweeping through Western Europe.
For groups like Gaia this couldn’t be farther from the truth. The group’s members seek only to improve the quality of life for animals raised in human custody, and see this debate as the perfect forum to introduce new people to their campaign.
We are still at the vigil in front of the Brussels government building for a ban on slaughter without stunning. pic.twitter.com/qw0rl0R7OK
— GAIA (@GAIABrussels) September 1, 2017
While critics of the campaign argue that opportunistic politicians are trying to inflate the issue in order to stir their populist bases. In Flanders this argument holds more water with the incumbent far right N-VA sharing a lot of its voter base with the extreme right anti-islamic party Vlaams Belang, and being particularly vocal about this new stunning legislation but neglecting to mention the non-stunning of slaughtered chickens in Belgium. Notably Belgium cannot ban the import of non-stunned meat, which renders the purview of this new legislation limited to some local slaughterhouses and these religious holidays.
What exactly is stunning?
Stunning is the process by which food animals are temporarily incapacitated before they are slaughtered. Cattle and lambs are generally stunned by a bolt gun (the machine Javier Bardem’s character uses in the film No Country For Old Men) before being strung upside down and killed by a spear to the heart or neck. Currently non cattle animals do not need to be pre stunned in Belgium, although it isn’t uncommon to gas chicken before death in factory farming.
What is Halal/Kosher?
Halal and kosher is the method by which the Muslim and Jewish community slaughter their food animals respectively. The animal must be alive, the blade must be sufficiently sharp and should cut the animal’s carotid artery and windpipe in one swift motion, and the slaughterer must be Muslim or Jewish. It has been deemed by European law to be sufficiently sensitive to the life of the animal. A little known fact is that stunning methods do exist that are in accordance with both customs. In the UK 88% of halal/kosher meats come from pre-stunned animals.
Despite that, non stunned cows and lambs do stay conscious for at least 20 seconds after having their throats slit, and often times longer. They generally die 2 minutes after the incision has been made. The legislation will take effect fully as of September 2nd 2019, allowing religious groups to receive special dispensations for their rituals until then.