In a rare show of unity, representatives of one million Dutch Muslims and 40,000 Jews have condemned the prohibition of halal and kosher meat as a violation of their religious freedom.
The legislation was tabled by the tiny Animal Rights Party but it quickly won cross-party support in a country where traditional religion, especially Islam, has been accused of being out of step with liberal Dutch values.
“This way of killing causes unnecessary pain to animals. Religious freedom cannot be unlimited,” said Marianne Thieme, the party’s leader.
“For us religious freedom stops where human or animal suffering begins.”
The new ban requires that livestock must be stunned before being killed, contrary to the Muslim and Jewish “ritual slaughter” customs that require animals to be fully conscious.
Binyomin Jacobs, the country’s Chief Rabbi, has compared the ban to anti-Semitic laws enacted by during the Nazi occupation that led to the death of 104,000 Dutch Jews in the Holocaust.
“One of the first measures taken during the occupation was the closing of kosher abattoirs,” he said.
“The very fact that there is a discussion about this is very painful for the Jewish community. Those who survived the war remember the very first law made by the Germans in Holland was the banning of the Jewish way of slaughtering animals.”
Dutch Muslims have also complained they feel stigmatised, amid growing support for Geert Wilders, the anti-Islam populist, whose Freedom Party has supported the ban.
“There was no reason for passing this law,” said Imam Mahmut of the El Tawheed mosque told Reuters.
“This is a political decision. Who has the authority to determine whether the way of killing animals is good or not?”
Sweden, Luxembourg and non-EU members Norway and Switzerland ban ritual slaughter but the EU, which bans the killing of non-stunned animals, allows religious exemptions.
Jonathan Sacks, Britain’s Chief Rabbi, joined the campaign to stop the ban last week amid Jewish fears that pressure to ban ritual slaughter is growing across the EU.
“We are worried that it could spread. There has been a non-stop campaign by animal welfare activists to have all forms of ritual slaughter banned. It has to be fought everywhere because if it’s lost anywhere it has a potential domino effect,” he said.
Esther Ouwehand, another MP for the Dutch animal rights party, said: “By getting this modification in the law, we hope to inspire other countries.”