CJEU rules non-stun slaughter incompatible with organic labelling

The CJEU Grand Chamber has handed down its judgment in Oeuvre d’assistance aux bêtes d’abattoirs (Protection of animals at the time of killing) [2019] EUECJ C-497/17. The Court ruled that EU law does not permit putting the EU organic production logo on products derived from animals that have been ritually slaughtered without pre-stunning: “such a practice fails to observe the highest animal welfare standards”.

Background

In 2012, the French association Œuvre d’assistance aux bêtes d’abattoirs (‘OABA’) asked the French Ministry for Agriculture and Food) to ban the use of the ‘organic farming’ indication in the adverts for and on the packaging of minced beef patties certified halal from animals slaughtered without pre-stunning. The certification body concerned, Ecocert, implicitly refused OABA’s request and an application for review brought by OABA was dismissed at first instance.

On appeal, the Cour administrative d’appel de Versailles stayed the proceedings and sought a preliminary ruling from the CJEU on whether the applicable rules of EU law deriving from, inter alia, the Regulation on organic production and labelling of organic products, (Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 of 28 June 2007), its Implementing Regulation (Commission Regulation (EC) No 889/2008) and the Regulation on the protection of animals at the time of killing (Council Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 of 24 September 2009) must be interpreted as permitting or prohibiting approval of the ‘use of the European “organic farming” label’ in relation to products derived from animals which have been slaughtered in accordance with religious rites without first being stunned.

Judgment of the court

The CJEU found that, in the legislation at issue, the EU legislature had on several occasions declared its desire to observe a high level of animal welfare in the context of production methods, including during slaughter [38].

The Court recalled that scientific studies have shown that pre-stunning before slaughter was the technique that compromised animal welfare the least [47]. Further, ritual slaughter –  under which an animal may be killed without first being stunned – was authorised in the EU by way of derogation solely in order to ensure observance of the freedom of religion but did not remove all of the animal’s pain, distress and suffering as effectively as slaughter with pre-stunning, which caused the animal to lose consciousness and significantly reduced its suffering [48].

The Court pointed out that, while slaughter without pre-stunning required an accurate cut of the throat with a sharp knife to minimise the animal’s suffering, it did not, however, allow any suffering to be kept to a minimum within the meaning of Article 14(1)(b)(viii) of Regulation No 834/2007 [49]. Therefore, it concluded that particular methods of religious slaughter carried out without pre-stunning did not equate, in animal welfare terms, to slaughter with pre-stunning which was, in principle, required by EU law [50].

Finally, the Court pointed out that the objective of the EU’s rules on labelling organic products was to maintain and justify consumer confidence in products so labelled and that it was important to ensure that consumers were reassured that products bearing the EU’s organic logo had “actually been produced in observance of the highest standards. in particular in the area of animal welfare” [51].

Consequently, the Court ruled that EU law did not authorise the placing of the EU’s organic production logo on products derived from animals slaughtered in accordance with religious rites without first being stunned:

“Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 of 28 June 2007 on organic production and labelling of organic products and repealing Regulation (EEC) No 2092/91, in particular Article 3 and Article 14(1)(b)(viii) thereof, read in the light of Article 13 TFEU, must be interpreted as not authorising the placing of the organic production logo of the European Union, referred to in the first paragraph of Article 57 of Commission Regulation (EC) No 889/2008 of 5 September 2008 laying down detailed rules for the implementation of Regulation No 834/2007, as amended by Regulation (EU) No 271/2010 of 24 March 2010, on products derived from animals which have been slaughtered in accordance with religious rites without first being stunned, where such slaughter is conducted in accordance with the requirements laid down by Council Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 of 24 September 2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing, in particular Article 4(4) thereof” [53].

Comment

The Court did not follow the Opinion of Advocate General Wahl, who concluded that the Regulations did not prohibit the issue of the European ‘organic farming’ label to products from animals ritually slaughtered without prior stunning under the conditions laid down in Regulation No 1099/2009.

The supply and labelling of non-stunned meat is an on-going issue and, to date, attention has focused on labelling which indicates the manner of slaughter and whether or not stunning was employed. Case C-497/17 considered the European ‘organic farming’ label and indication and the EU’s Organic logo for the purposes of Article 25 of Regulation No 834/2007 and Article 57 of Regulation No 889/2008. The Organic logo is carried by a restricted range of products and, following the judgment, its presence should indicate that the animals from whom the products are derived have been stunned before slaughter.

DP & FC

Cite this article as: David Pocklington and Frank Cranmer, “CJEU rules non-stun slaughter incompatible with organic labelling” in Law & Religion UK, 1 March 2019, https://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2019/03/01/cjeu-rules-non-stun-slaughter-incompatible-with-organic-labelling/#more-48843

 

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