Agreement Sealed to Protect Shechitah in Holland

NEW YORK - Religious groups in the Netherlands have reached an agreement with government officials that will allow for their traditional slaughter methods to continue. It is a particularly welcome development for pro-shechitah advocates in Europe as it comes on the heels of legislation that outlaws slaughter without stunning in most parts of neighboring, Belgium.

Rabbi Eliezer Wolff, chief of Amsterdam’s beis din, was pleased with the results of negotiations, but given the widespread assaults against shechitah on the continent, tempered his response.

“I think we can be happy today, but we are never sure that this is the end of the matter,” he told Hamodia.

The circumstances of the present agreement seem to justify Rabbi Wolff’s concerns. In 2012, the Dutch parliament passed a law which practically outlawed shechitah as well as halal slaughter, but it was challenged by the government’s upper house. While the issue was being debated, an agreement was reached that allowed for both procedures to continue with certain conditions for a period of five years.

As the time for that agreement to expire neared, animal rights activists and their sympathizers in the government conducted scientific tests and advocated for new legislation that would revive the original ban.

Following negotiations, President of the Jewish Community Yonason Soesman, Deputy Director Ruben Vis, together with representatives from the meat production industry and a coalition representing Muslim groups, reached an affable compromise with Agriculture Minister Martijn van Dam on Wednesday night to extend the 2012 “covenant.” This agreement, too, will come up for further review five years from now.

Key components of the agreement revolve around export of kosher and halal meat as well as when post-stunning can be administered in the event that an animal does not die or become unconscious immediately after being slaughtered. Two significant victories for shechitah advocates were that it is the shochet and not an outside regulator who gets to determine when the animal becomes unconscious and that post-stunning cannot be applied until 40 seconds after the neck is cut, which does not affect the animal’s kashrus.

Government officials initially wanted to limit religiously slaughtered meat to local use, but the compromise allows for export, if it is necessary to make production financially feasible.

Shimon Cohen, director of Shechita U.K., which advocates to protect the right to practice religious slaughter methods in Great Britain as well as on the Continent, called the Dutch compromise “a very important development.”

“This is a huge step forward,” he told Hamodia. “Not only does it protect our traditions, but it demonstrates that slaughtering animals in accordance with halachah is acceptable under European law.”

The fact that the arrangement is set to come under scrutiny in another five years did not concern Mr. Cohen, who said that given ongoing advancements in restraining techniques, that a periodic review is “right.”

The kosher market in the Netherlands is relatively small, but roughly 200 head of cattle are shechted there each month. Poultry is mostly imported from nearby Belgium, where a total ban on religious slaughter is set to go into effect in 2019 in two of the country’s three semi-autonomous regions.

Rabbi Wolff said that the community’s Belgian kosher poultry supplier is currently looking into alternative venues abroad while local advocates pursue a legal battle to defeat the newly passed laws.

Mr. Cohen was hopeful that the agreement would prove an important precedent beyond the Netherlands.

“I am not sure that this will prove to be a path for Belgium since it is now a matter for the courts there, but the fact that there is a positive precedent can only be helpful there and certainly for the rest of Europe.”