Peter Dejong / AP
In a conflict that pits animal welfare against religious rights, Denmark has ordered all food animals to be stunned before being killed. The movement effectively bans ritual slaughter methods prescribed in Muslim and Jewish tradition.
(Yes, this is the same country that recently made headlines for killing an “extra male” giraffe at the zoo and dissecting it in public.)
For biologist and animal welfare activist Peter Mollerup, the issue of slaughter is fairly straightforward.
“Danish law tells us that if you want to kill an animal you have to do it as quickly and painlessly [as] possible, âsays Mollerup. And that simply cannot be done if the animal is conscious when it is killed. For him, even if the difference between life and death is only a matter of a few more seconds, animal welfare must come before religion.
“I have [deep] respect for these people and their way of thinking about God, but that must not hurt any living creature, âhe says.
Jews and Muslims, meanwhile, argue that there is evidence to suggest that, if performed correctly, ritual slaughter can be just as humane as conventional slaughter. The Danish agriculture minister called on local religious leaders to submit this proof, which they promised to do.
Practically speaking, the rule does not change much for Jews and Muslims in Denmark. The last Danish slaughterhouse to forgo pre-slaughter stunning closed in 2004. Since then, some 8,000 Danish Jews have imported all kosher meat.
And while most Islamic authorities agree that stunning is not ideal, many say animals stunned before slaughter are still considered halal as long as concussion is not the cause of death. According to this interpretation, 99 percent of poultry slaughtered in Denmark are and will continue to be halal. And while it works for many of Denmark’s 230,000 Muslims, those concerned about upholding religious tradition may opt for imported meat.
Denmark isn’t the first country to invoke a stun rule: Sweden and Norway have had similar bans on books for decades. But Denmark’s decision is the most recent development in a discussion that seems to be intensifying in other parts of Europe. Dutch lawmakers addressed the issue in 2012, and even Britain’s top veterinarian is now making headlines by suggesting that his country would do well to follow the Danish example.
As Europe becomes more secular, says Finn Schwarz, president of the Jewish Congregation in Copenhagen, âreligious traditionâ is no longer a valid argument for much, he says.
Benyones Essabar with Danish band Halal agrees.
“Religion itself in Europe doesn’t play the big role … it does in other countries. So every time we talk about something that [has] to do with religion, “he said,” it will always be seen as something from medieval times, and something that has no scientific place in our modern day. “
The possibility of Danish rule spreading to other countries or traditions, is Essabar’s biggest fear.
âNow they have banned ritual slaughter,â Essabar says. “The next step they are debating is actually to ban male circumcision.”
And yet, both Schwarz and Essabar are reluctant to use words like âIslamophobiaâ or âanti-Semitismâ when discussing these issues. Essabar describes it as “a lot of people are afraid of different things,” but Schwarz sees it as an easy way for politicians to score points with a predominantly secular audience.
“Today we live (…) in a very complex world, and our problems in Denmark, as in all other countries, are very complex,” he says. âWhat to do with unemployment? What to do with children who [don’t] get an education? But these problems – circumcision, slaughter – it’s so easy. And everyone can have their own opinion. “
But there may be a bright spot for Denmark’s religious minorities in all of this. During one of the many recent TV debates featuring this Jew and Muslim on the same side of the table, Schwarz reached out to pat Essabar on the back.
âI totally agree,â said Schwarz. “It’s good that we can agree on something from time to time.”