In Centraal Israëlitisch Consistorie van België and Others  Case C-336/19, the Grand Chamber of the CJEU has ruled that, in order to promote animal welfare in the context of ritual slaughter, Member States may, without infringing the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, require pre-stunning of animals before slaughter.
A decree of the Flemish Region of Belgium of 7 July 2017, amending the Law on the protection and welfare of animals regarding permitted methods of slaughter, prohibited slaughter without pre-stunning – including, in the case of religious slaughter, a requirement to use a reversible stunning technique that cannot result in the animal’s death. The decree was challenged, inter alia, by several Jewish and Muslim groups which sought its annulment in whole or in part.
They argued that, in banning slaughter without pre-stunning and, therefore, not allowing Jewish and Muslim believers to obtain meat from animals slaughtered in accordance with their religious faith, the Flemish decree infringed Council Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 of 24 September 2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing – and, therefore, prevented Jewish and Muslim believers from practising their religion. The Constitutional Court of Belgium made a reference to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling asking:
- whether point (c) of the first subparagraph of Article 26(2) of Regulation No 1099/2009, read in the light of Article 13 TFEU and Article 10(1) of the Charter, must be interpreted as precluding the legislation of a Member State which requires, in the context of ritual slaughter, a reversible stunning procedure which cannot result in the animal’s death ; and
- in essence, whether the fact that Regulation No 1099/2009 did not make any similar provision governing the killing of animals in the context of hunting and recreational fishing or during cultural or sporting events breached the principles of equality, non-discrimination and cultural, religious and linguistic diversity, as guaranteed by Articles 20, 21 and 22 of the Charter .
The Court, sitting as the Grand Chamber, observed, first of all, that the principle laid down by Regulation No 1099/2009 that an animal should be stunned prior to slaughter met the main objective of the protection of animal welfare under the Regulation. Although Regulation 3 permitted ritual slaughter without pre-stunning, that form of slaughter was authorised only by way of derogation and solely in order to ensure the observance of freedom of religion. In addition, Member States might adopt national rules aimed at ensuring more extensive protection of animals at the time of killing than those contained in the Regulation.
Regulation No 1099/2009 reflected the need to seek a balance between freedom of religion and animal welfare while respecting the provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites. However, Regulation No1099/2009 did not, of itself, reconcile animal welfare and the freedom to manifest religion, but merely provided a framework for the reconciliation which Member States had to achieve between those two values. Regulation No 1099/2009 did not, therefore, preclude Member States from imposing an obligation to stun animals prior to slaughter which also applied in the case of religious slaughter – always provided that, in so doing, they respected the fundamental rights enshrined in the Charter.
Ritual slaughter came within the scope of the freedom to manifest religion guaranteed by Article 10(1) of the Charter. By requiring reversible stunning prior to ritual slaughter, contrary to Jewish and Muslim religious precepts, the decree entailed a limitation on the right of Jews and Muslims to manifest their religion. However, the interference with the freedom to manifest was provided for by law and respected the essence of Article 10 of the Charter because it was limited to one aspect of the specific ritual act of slaughter and that act of slaughter was not prohibited as such. Further, that interference met an objective of general interest recognised by the EU: namely, the promotion of animal welfare.
The Court concluded that the impugned measures allowed a fair balance to be struck between the importance attached to animal welfare and the freedom of Jewish and Muslim believers to manifest their religion for several reasons:
- the obligation to use reversible stunning was appropriate for achieving the objective of promoting animal welfare;
- as to the necessity of the interference, the EU legislature had intended to give each Member State a broad discretion in the context of the need to reconcile the protection of the welfare of animals at the time of slaughter and respect for the freedom to manifest religion ;
- there was a scientific consensus that prior stunning was the optimal means of reducing an animal’s suffering at the time of slaughter;
- as regards the proportionality of the interference, the Flemish legislature had relied on scientific research and had sought to give preference to the most up-to-date method of killing that was authorised;
- the Flemish legislature was part of an evolving societal and legislative context characterised by increasing awareness of the issue of animal welfare; and
- the contested decree did not prohibit or hinder the marketing of products from ritually-slaughtered animals where those products originated in another Member State or in a non-Member State.
As to the third question, a cultural or sporting event could not reasonably be understood as a “food production activity” for the purposes of Article 1(1) of Regulation No 1099/2009. Further, if the concepts of “hunting’ and ‘recreational fishing’ were not to be rendered meaningless, it could not be argued that they could be carried out in respect of animals that had been stunned beforehand [90 & 91].
The Grand Chamber ruled as follows:
“1. Point (c) of the first subparagraph of Article 26(2) of Council Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 of 24 September 2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing, read in the light of Article 13 TFEU and Article 10(1) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, must be interpreted as not precluding legislation of a Member State which requires, in the context of ritual slaughter, a reversible stunning procedure which cannot result in the animal’s death.
2. The examination of the third question referred for a preliminary ruling has disclosed nothing capable of affecting the validity of point (c) of the first subparagraph of Article 26(2) of Regulation No 1099/2009.“