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  • 16 January 2019 : Animal stunning/Religious slaughter – electoral issues and reasons for anti-EU attitudes

Western Europeans have been debating on the religious slaughter for several centuries already. Currently, the question is reconciling the religious rights of humans and the right of animals to be treated humanely. Animal rights advocates militate for stunning animals before they are sacrificed, a practice which is contrary to the principles of several religions whose dietary laws provide exactly the opposite. Over time, this debate was instrumentalized in religious, economic or political confrontations, but the original dilemma persists even today : to ban or not to ban what is commonly called the “religious slaughter” (the sacrifice of animals without prior stunning). With EU integration, Romania had to comply with the EU Directive that allows the slaughtering of animals only if they is previous stunning. It turned out that this directive was almost impossible to respect fully. In 2007, in Romania, there were about 4.5 million farms and households in which the veterinary authorities predicted that 1.5 million pigs for Christmas and a similar number of lambs for Easter would be sacrificed. Theoretically, the stunning procedure was mandatory, but it was practically absent. Finally, the solution, which persists until today, was that the European institutions closed their eyes on slaughters realised at these occasions.
During the negotiations in Brussels, the Romanians asked for the sacrifice of animals on Christmas and Easter to be exception to the rule, as for the sacrifice practiced by Muslims and Jews. The Commission has rejected this proposal because the directive provides an exception only for religious rituals, while the Romanians practices are considered traditional, not ritual.

This unfortunate event was used in Romania in two directions : electoral and anti-European.
In January 2009, two Romanian euro-parliamentarians declared in the Romanian press that they succeeded to amend the Directive 93/119/EC. They stated that they had introduced a new exception to the stunning rule besides those proposed by rapporteur Janusz Wojciechowski (written question by Janusz Wojciechowski to the Commission, Labelling of meat obtained from animals slaughtered without prior stunning, 8 September 2008). The two brought their case before the Commission for Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Parliament, arguing that the amendments were necessary to preserve Romanian Easter and Christmas traditions. Several TV channels presented them visiting farmers’ households to announce to the owners that they would no longer have to stun their animals. A Romanian NGO started an action against this case, and proved that their statements were inaccurate : the parliamentarians had tried, but with no success to bring changes to the above-mentioned directive ; the request of rapporteur Janusz Wojciechowski to amend this same directive was referring to the possibility of labelling the meat obtained from animals slaughtered without prior stunning, and not at all to a possible derogation from the rules imposed by the directive. Considering that the two rapporteurs were members of the same party, along with one of the candidates in the presidential election in 2009, their lobbying action alongside the EU institutions was interpreted as an electoral action.
This kind of approach regarding animal rights provided also an opportunity for anti-European opinions. Several public figures, alleged defenders of Orthodox Christian values, were critical towards the regulations concerning stunning, in the name of Orthodox fidelity. Their main criticism was that the European Union, through such directives, aimed at destroying the religious traditions of the Romanians, which would in turn cause the destruction of the Romanian traditional village, that they considered the main pillars of the Romanian people.
A brief clarification must be made on this matter : the custom of sacrificing a pig for Christmas has no root in Christianity, much less in Orthodoxy ; the origin of this tradition is pagan, pre-Christian, and has a more practical, alimentary explanation than a religious one.

For more information see Iordan BĂRBULESCU, Gabriel ANDREESCU, "Animal stunning, the EU, and the Romanian lobby", Romanian Journal of Bioethics, Vol. 8, No. 1, January – March 2010, p. 190-199.

D 16 janvier 2019    AGabriel Birsan

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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