Practical Issues > Things to do > Religion and Animals
Should Animal Rights Trump Religious Freedom? Denmark Says Yes


by Alicia Graef
February 21, 2014

Denmark is stirring up some controversy about whether animal rights should take precedence over religious freedom with a ban on kosher and halal slaughter that went into effect this week.

Most countries require animals to be stunned and rendered unconscious prior to slaughter, which is believed to be more humane if it's done properly. Jewish shechita and Muslim dhabiha slaughter methods that produce kosher and halal meats require animals to be conscious during slaughter, which involves slitting their throats before they are bled out.

In Europe and other countries, including the U.S., religious slaughter may be exempt from animal welfare laws. Under Denmark's new law, religious groups will be prevented from applying for an exemption.

The move to ban this type slaughter in Denmark has raised claims of religious intolerance from Jewish and Muslim communities, with at least some taking issue with the suggestion that kosher and halal slaughter are cruel.

However, Denmark's Minister for Agriculture and Food, Dan Jørgensen, is standing behind the ban and got right to the point with the statement that "animal rights come before religion."

Some have also taken issue with how we view different species and the fact that people are objecting to this type of slaughter after a Danish zoo killed a perfectly healthy young giraffe in front of onlookers simply because he was considered a surplus animal.

While opponents are taking action to get the law reversed by the European Court for Human Rights, in the end the ban seems to have created a big fuss over nothing when it comes to how it will actually affect religious groups in Denmark. The announcement is being rejected by some in the Jewish community because in 1998 Danish Jews agreed to the certification of kosher meat from cattle who were stunned with captive bolt guns prior to being killed.
It's also being noted that ritual slaughter hasn't taken place in Denmark in years and there are no slaughterhouses that currently practice ritual slaughter, according to the Economist. Imports of kosher and halal meat would also still be allowed.

Despite outcry over the ban, the real issue isn't about religious intolerance.  It's about the suffering of thousands of animals who remain fully aware of what's happening to them while they're being slaughtered for kosher and halal meat.
Still, when it comes to animal rights the argument isn't about religion or about one form of slaughter being more cruel than another; it's about the fact that millions of sentient animals continue to be exploited and killed around the world every year for their flesh. While it's still easy to argue that there's no humane way to kill a healthy animal, in this case it's impossible to see a side of the argument that opposes taking steps to try to ensure they don't suffer any more than they have to when they're killed, regardless of whether or not the argument is being made on religious grounds.

For reference, a comparison of ritual slaughter methods vs. stunning (warning: graphic footage).

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