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Denmark: Kosher Slaughter Method Effectively Banned

(June 2, 2014) On February 17, 2014, new animal protection measures entered into force effectively banning kosher slaughter practices in Denmark. Unsedated slaughter has been illegal in Denmark for years, but there has been an exemption for religious slaughter, i.e. kosher and halal practices. That exemption has now been repealed, making kosher slaughter in principle no longer possible in the country. (Bekendtgørelse om slagtning og aflivning af dyr [Ordinance on the Slaughter and Killing of Animals], BEK No. 135 (Feb. 14, 2014), RETSINFORMATION.)

The new rules on religious slaughter and anesthesia are found in the Ordinance on the Slaughter and Killing of Animals. They specify the process of anesthesia that must precede the slaughter of an animal, as well as the timing of blade cuts. (Id.)

According to Danish Minister for Agriculture and Food Dan Jørgensen, no unsedated religious slaughter of animals has been practiced in Denmark for a decade. The change in the rules comes as a result of a growing number of Danes having raised the issue of whether any unsedated slaughter of animals should be carried out. (Slagtning uden bedøvelse forbydes i Danmark, DR (Feb. 13, 2014).)

According to news reports, halal slaughter is currently practiced in Denmark using sedation by a blow to the head, as religious interpreters have determined that the halal practice can be performed with sedation. (Sune Gudmann Christiani, OVERBLIK: Sådan foregår halalslagtning i Danmark, DR (Aug. 12, 2013).)

Although not practiced in Denmark, non-fatal sedation by a blow to the head has been accepted for over a decade by the Danish Jewish community as being consistent with kosher practice. (Denmark ‘Insulted’ by Claim Kosher Slaughter Ban Is Anti-Semitic, THE JEWISH DAILY FORWARD (Feb. 17, 2014).) Despite the adoption of the new rules, imports of kosher and halal meat will continue to be allowed. (Christian Wenande, Minister Meets with European Muslim and Jewish Leaders over Slaughter Ban, THE COPENHAGEN POST (Mar. 25, 2014).)

Critics of the Provision

Following the repeal of the exemption, Jews and Muslims have joined forces to criticize the new provision. (Id.) The change in policy has been viewed by some as a populist measure aimed at voters, given the fact that unsedated slaughter has not been performed in Denmark for years and that even before the adoption of the Ordinance all kosher meat was imported from abroad. (Maja Hagedorn Hansen, Jødisk samfund vil kunne slagte uden bedøvelse, BERLIGNSKE (Feb. 13, 2014).)

According to commentators, the new polivy also creates a stigma against Danes who eat kosher meat, as the Ordinance now effectively dismisses kosher slaughter as being less humane and even cruel. (Ole Andersen, Kommentar: Jodisk Slagtning, en dræbt giraf og den truede religionsfrihed, ORDET & ISRAEL (Feb. 21, 2014).)

Other critics of the new provision have found the stance in favor of animal rights over religious rights illogical, citing the fact that sex with animals is not specifically criminalized by separate legislation and that pigs are used in military training. (Eli Kaufman, Slaughter Ban Criticism Continues, THE COPENHAGEN POST (Apr. 12, 2014); Christian Wenande, New Animal Slaughter Law Comes into Effect, THE COPENHAGEN POST (Feb. 17, 2014).)

Another major criticism of the measure is that it came in the form of a bekendtgorelse (ordinance) rather than a draft law that could be debated in the Folketing [Parliament]. (Elon Cohn, Seneste om Scæchtning: Brev fra ministeren, MOSAISKE.DK (Feb. 25, 2014).)

Remaining Issues

The adoption of the new policy does not end the debate over halal meat, which has become increasingly common in Denmark and which requires a Muslim prayer to be performed while the slaughtered animal dies. The use of only halal meat in schools and nursing homes has led to a debate over what role religious practices should have in the public sphere. (See for example Merete Riisager, Må vi godt være fri?, BERLIGNSKE (Apr. 7, 2014).)

Following the changes in the new provision, the Jewish community has mostly been concerned about what would happen if imports of kosher meat were no longer made available. (Cohn, supra.)