EU states have the right to rule that all animals must be stunned before slaughter, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Thursday, in a blow to a complaint brought by Muslim and Jewish groups in Belgium.
Such rules do not fundamentally infringe upon the freedom of religion as such a requirement followed the EU objective of promoting the welfare of animals, the judges at the Luxembourg-based court found.
In order to reduce animal suffering, the Belgian region of Flanders issued a decree in 2017 ordering that all animals be knocked out before being slaughtered for their meat.
However, several Jewish and Muslim organizations sought to have this overturned. According to traditional Jewish and Muslim slaughter practices, an animal has to be killed with a single cut in the throat and die from bleeding.
In Thursday's ruling, the ECJ confirmed that EU law does allow for slaughtering without prior stunning for exceptions like essential religious rites.
However, the EU states themselves can still write into law an obligation to knock out animals beforehand, the court said.
The Flemish provisions do not violate religious freedom as they don't prohibit ritual slaughter per se, the court said.
"This ruling gives the green light for other countries to follow suit, and if they do, there will be no kosher meat available in Europe," Rabbi Menachem Margolin, Chairman of the European Jewish Association, said.
"Bogus animal welfare claims are being used to penalize a practice that puts care and respect for animals at its very core," he said in a written statement.