About the author
Marianne Thieme is leader of the Animal Rights Party and a member of parliament. She writes a weekly blog which is translated into nine different languages on animal welfare,www.partyfortheanimals.nl.
The Netherlands was the first country in the world to have anAnimal Rights Party member elected to parliament. The Animal Rights Party (Partij van de Dieren in Dutch) strives for compassion, personal freedom, sustainability and personal responsibility for the planet and its people.
by Marianne Thieme
The detailed instructions given in both the Qur’an and the Torah on how people should treat animals tell us not to show cruelty to them. The holy books describe how animal products should be prepared in such a way that no suffering is inflicted on humans or animals.
3000 years ago
3000 years ago, Islamic and Jewish traditions were way ahead when it came to treating animals well. But that does not change the fact that, based on new insights, their methods of slaughter are in need of reform today. Religious believers can no longer justify a method that was ahead of its time 3000 years ago.
A range of techniques for stunning animals before slaughter are now available. Extensive research has been conducted on the extent to which animals experience pain during slaughter – the most dramatic event in an animal’s life. It is important to be able to guarantee all animals that the slaughter procedure will be as painless as possible and will be carried out with the least possible distress.
That safeguard has already been embodied in Dutch law, but there is an exemption for Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter. There is very little support in the Netherlands or in a range of other countries – whether in political circles or among the public at large – for upholding this exemption. Turkey has announced plans to abolish ritual slaughter from the end of this year. The practice has already been banned in Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Estonia and Iceland and New Zealand.
Curb freedom of religion
While anyone who practises a religion has the right to their own religious truths, it doesn’t give them the right to violate the welfare of another human or an animal. So, where necessary, it is the task of the government to intervene and curb the freedom of religion. If you’re religious, you might cling to certain views on homosexuality, for example, but that should never lead to discrimination against fellow citizens.
Luckily, the debate on ritual slaughter is also being held in religious circles. The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly (which comprises 1,600 conservative rabbis) in New York issued a statement in 2001 entitled “A Stunning Matter”. The declaration said that the Torah leaves the matter of stunning animals before shechita (Jewish slaughter) open and that there is no need to ban the practice. Within the Muslim community, the option of stunning before slaughter is also garnering support.
No to religious exclusive rights
Constant references to legal practices or questionable findings in the past are not conducive to producing a well-balanced debate. It is no longer possible or permissible to continue with ritual slaughter given that all independent researchers conclude that anaesthetising animals leads to less pain. These findings have been backed up by veterinary experts.
The development of ethics is a dynamic process and not an exclusive privilege of the religious. The concept of animal welfare rights has now been established in mainstream society; and so, the next logical step is to embody that development in political decision making. That justifies the abolition of unanaesthetised ritual slaughter. It would signify a great breakthrough in the struggle to treat animals in the Netherlands with more compassion.