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INTERVIEW: Is trying to ban Halal slaughtering a concern for Human Rights?

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Is trying to ban Halal slaughtering a concern for Human Rights? This is the question our special contributor, PhD. Alessandro Amicarelli, a renowned human rights attorney and activist, who chairs the European Federation on Freedom of Belief, puts to Professor Vasco Fronzoni, from the Universitá Telemática Pegaso in Italy, expert in shari’a Law.

Find in blue his introduction, and then the questions and answers.

Alessandro Amicarelli 240.jpg - INTERVIEW: Is trying to ban Halal slaughtering a concern for Human Rights?

By Alessandro Amicarelli. Freedom of religion and belief protects the right of believers to live their lives in accordance with their beliefs, within limits, and this also includes some practices relating to social and food traditions, this being the case for instance of halal and kosher preparations. 

There have been cases of proposals aimed at banning halal and kosher procedures arguing on the rights of animals that according to detractors of these traditions are exposed to excessive cruelty. 

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Prof. Vasco Fronzoni is Associate Professor at the Università telematica Pegaso in Italy, is a specialist in Shari’a Law and Islamic Markets, and he is also Lead Auditor of Quality management Systems, specialized for the Halal sector at the Halal Research Council of Lahore and is member of the Scientific Committee of the European Federation on Freedom of Belief.

Q: Prof. Fronzoni what are the main reasons put forward by those trying to ban halal preparations and in general the slaughter according to halal traditions?

A: The main reasons for the ban on ritual slaughter according to the kosher, shechita and halal rules relate to the idea of animal welfare and to alleviate as much as possible the psychological and physical suffering of animals in the killing procedures.

Alongside this main and declared reason, some Jews and Muslims also see the desire to boycott or discriminate against their communities, due to secularist attitudes or in some cases motivated by the desire to protect other majority religions.

Q: Is in your opinion a breach of the rights of Muslims, and in the case of the kosher, the rights of Jews, banning their slaughtering traditions?  People of all faiths and no-faith access the kosher and halal food and this is not restricted to people of the Jewish and Islamic faiths.  Shouldn’t people belonging to the Jewish and Islamic faiths be permitted to slaughter according to their religious laws and regulations that have existed for several centuries as this is guaranteed by their human rights? Banning these traditions wouldn’t also mean to infringe the rights of people from the wider community to access a food market of their choice?

In my opinion yes, prohibiting a type of religious slaughter is a violation of religious freedom, of citizens and even of residents only.

The right to food must be framed as a fundamental and multidimensional human right, and it is not only an essential component of citizenship, but also a precondition of democracy itself. It was crystallized already with the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and today it is recognized by numerous international soft law sources and is also guaranteed by various constitutional charters. Furthermore, in 1999 the UN Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights issued a specific document on the right to adequate food.

Following this approach, the right to adequate food must be understood both in terms of food security and food safety and embraces a criterion that is not only quantitative, but above all qualitative, where nutrition does not represent only sustenance, but ensures the dignity of people and is such only if it corresponds to the religious dictates and cultural traditions of the community to which the subject belongs.

In this sense, it appears enlightening that in the European Union the Court of Strasbourg has recognized since 2010 (HUDOC – European Court Human Rights, Application n. 18429/06 Jakobski v. Poland) the direct link between the observance of particular dietary requirements and the expression of freedom of belief pursuant to art. 9 of the ECHR.

Even the Belgian Constitutional Court, recently, while stressing that the prohibition of slaughter without stunning responds to a social need and is proportionate to the legitimate aim of promoting animal welfare, he recognized that prohibiting this type of slaughter involves a restriction on the religious freedom of Jews and Muslims, whose religious norms prohibit the consumption of meat from stunned animals.

Therefore, allowing targeted access to food and the right food choices is an effective tool for protecting the right to religious freedom, as it helps believers to orient themselves in the food market and to choose food products consistent with their religious needs.

Furthermore, it should be noted that the quality standards imposed by the Halal and Kosher accreditation rules are particularly stringent and ensure a high quality product, with more stringent requirements than the normal standards prescribed for example for BIO certification. It is for this reason that many consumers, neither Muslim nor Jewish, buy these products because they give priority to public health and they consider it an essential step to achieving food security, guaranteed by the existing Food quality control in the Jewish and Muslim sphere.

Q: Administrative bodies, as well as the courts of law had to deal with cases pertaining to the halal and kosher food, as well as with the claims of vegetarians and vegans. Could you mention what the main legal issues are in relation to the halal slaughtering? 

A: What happens in Europe is paradigmatic to answer this question.

Regulation 1099/2009 / EC introduced preliminary stunning methods and procedures, which require the killing of animals only after loss of consciousness, a condition that must be maintained until death. However, these norms are in contrast both with the Jewish religious tradition and with the opinion of the majority of muslim scholars, which require a vigilant and conscious state of the animal which must be intact at the time of slaughter, as well as a complete bleeding of meat. However, in respect of freedom of religion, the 2009 regulation grants each Member State a certain degree of subsidiarity in the procedures, providing with article 4 of the regulation a derogation to allow the Jewish and Muslim communities to perform ritual slaughter.

A balance is struck between the need for the forms of ritual slaughter typical of Judaism and Islam with that of the main rules oriented towards an idea of protection and welfare of animals during killing. Therefore, from time to time the state legislations, guided by the political direction of the moment and solicited by local public opinion, allow or prohibit religious communities from accessing food in a manner consistent with their belief. It thus happens that in Europe there are states such as Sweden, Norway, Greece, Denmark, Slovenia, in practice in Finland and partially Belgium that have applied a ban on ritual slaughter, while other countries allow it.

In my view, and I say this as a jurist and as an animal lover, the parameter must not revolve only around the concept of animal welfare during killing, which may at first seem a contradictory and even hypocritical concept and which does not consider that even the confessional rites are oriented in this sense. Conversely, the parameter must also be oriented towards the health of consumers and in the interest of the markets. It makes no sense to prohibit ritual slaughter in a territory but then allow the import of ritually slaughtered meat, it is only a short circuit that damages the consumer and the internal market. In fact, it does not seem to me a coincidence that in other countries, where religious communities are more numerous and above all where the halal and kosher supply chain is more widespread (producers, slaughterhouses, processing and supply industries), the concept of animal welfare is thought differently. In fact, in these realities where consumer demand is more significant, where there are many workers in the sector and where there is a rooted and structured market also for exports, ritual slaughter is allowed.

Let’s look at the UK. Here the Muslim population represents less than 5% but consumes over 20% of the meat that is slaughtered on the national territory, and the halal-slaughtered meat represents 71% of all animals slaughtered in England. Therefore, less than 5% of the population consumes more than 70% of the animals slaughtered. These numbers constitute a significant and not negligible element for the domestic economy, and the liberality shown by the English legislator in allowing ritual slaughter must be inscribed in respect for religious freedom, but certainly in terms of markets economy and consumer protection.

Q: Prof. Fronzoni you’re an Academic who advises national institutions and who deeply knows the existing religious communities in Europe and in particular in Italy. Eating halal has become the norm for many people, not necessarily Muslims, but when hearing about “shari’a” many people in the West are still dubious and suspsicious, even though shari’a is a Muslim equivalent of the Christian canon laws. Do people and the State institutions need to learn more about the halal and shari’a in general? Do schools and academia in the West need to do more in this regard as well? Is what is done in terms of educating the general public and advising governments enough?

A: Of course, in general it is necessary to know more, since knowledge of the other leads to awareness and understanding, the step preceding inclusion, while ignorance leads to distrust, which constitutes the step immediately before fear, which can lead to disordered and irrational reactions (radicalization on the one hand and Islamophobia and xenophobia on the other).

Religious associations, especially Muslim, do very little to make their traditions and needs known to the public and governments, and this is certainly a critical element and their fault. Of course, to be heard you need ears willing to do so, but it is also true that many Muslims living in the diaspora must strive to participate more in national life and to behave as citizens, not as foreigners.

Being attached to one’s origins is commendable and useful, but we must take note of the fact that differences in language, habits and religion are not an obstacle to inclusion and that there is no antinomy between living in the West and being Muslim. It is possible and also appropriate to encourage the process of inclusion, and this can be done with sharing in the sense of identity, with education and with respect for the rules. Those who are educated understand that one must accept others, despite their differences.

I also think that National institutions and politicians should seek more technical advice from those who know both worlds.

Q: Do you have any suggestions and advice for those trying to ban halal productions in the West?

A: My suggestion always goes in the sense of knowledge.

On the one hand, the fundamentalist prejudices of certain ideas of animal activism should be compared with the attitudes on animal welfare existing in the Jewish and Muslim traditions, which are regularly ignored but which exist.

On the other hand, making a balancing of interests that is not always easy, it should be noted that a new meaning of the principle of religious freedom has emerged, as the right to access adequate food in a confessional way. Therefore, it must be implemented a new configuration of the principle of freedom of belief is therefore emerging as the right to access adequate food in line with the confessional dictates of ritual slaughter, according to a particular declination aimed at the economic sustainability of producers and consumers, and also in terms of food safety.

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