EU top court backs Belgian law limiting ritual slaughter

BRUSSELS, Dec 17 (Reuters) - The EU’s top court on Thursday backed a Belgian law requiring animals to be stunned before slaughter, rejecting a challenge from Jewish and Muslim groups and opening the way for other countries to bring in similar restrictions.

Jewish and Muslim associations had argued that the original decree made in the Belgian region of Flanders in 2017 had effectively outlawed slaughter according to their religious rites.

They said their method of cutting animals’ throats with a sharp knife resulted in almost immediate death and that, traditionally, prior stunning was not permitted.

The Luxembourg-based court found that the Belgian decree was in line with EU law.

There was no immediate reaction from the Muslim and Jewish groups who brought the case.

The top court ruled that requiring stunning before slaughter did limit the ability of believers to exercise their right to manifest their religion.

But, the judges found it only limited one aspect of the tradition, rather than prohibiting the whole practice outright, and that this limitation met a general EU objective of promoting animal welfare.

The case will return to Belgium’s constitutional court, which had asked the EU court to rule on the issue. It is bound by the EU court’s decision.

Belgian campaign group Global Action in the Interest of Animals (GAIA) said it was delighted by the ruling that would allow other EU countries to introduce similar rules. (Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Andrew Heavens)