AG Wahl: Products from animals ritually slaughtered without prior stunning can have European ‘organic farming’ label

Advocate General Wahl proposes that the Court of Justice of the European Union find that products from animals that have been the subject of ritual slaughter without prior stunning can be issued the European ‘organic farming’ label.

In 2012, the French association Œuvre d’Assistance aux bêtes d’abattoirs (‘OABA’) submitted to the Ministre de l’Agriculture et de l’Alimentation (French Minister for Agriculture and Food) a request for a ban on the use of the indication ‘organic farming’ in the advertising and marketing of minced beef patties certified ‘halal’ from animals slaughtered without pre-stunning. The certification body concerned, Ecocert, implicitly refused the request, and the court with jurisdiction to annul the refusal dismissed OABA’s application.

The Cour administrative d’appel de Versailles (Administrative court of Appeal, Versailles, France), hearing the appeal, asks the court whether the applicable rules of EU law deriving from, inter alia, the Regulation on organic production and labelling of organic products, its Implementing Regulation and the Regulation on the protection of animals at the time of killing must be interpreted as permitting or prohibiting approval of the use of the European label ‘organic farming’ in relation to products derived from animals which have been slaughtered in accordance with religious rites without being stunned.

In his Opinion, Advocate General Nils Wahl dismisses at the outset any question of interference with the freedom of worship that might be posed by the impossibility of combining the certification ‘organic farming’ with the indication ‘halal’. He takes the view that the possibility of eating products bearing those two certifications does not, as such, relate to the practice of a ‘religious rite’. The inability to obtain meat labelled ‘organic farming’ from slaughterhouses that do not practise stunning does not affect the religious prescriptions, which do not require the consumption solely of products of organic farming. He goes on to note that there is no ‘right’ of access to products bearing an ‘organic farming’ label.

The Advocate General also considers that the question submitted to the court is not so much whether the certifications ‘organic farming’ and ‘halal’ are compatible, but rather whether an ‘organic farming’ certification may be issued for products from animals killed without pre-stunning. To date, the certification ‘halal’ says very little about the slaughtering method actually employed, as there is no uniformity in the practices followed by the ‘halal’ certification bodies in the member states. Thus, it is the Advocate General’s view that the question is to be considered in the light of the requirement to respect high levels of animal welfare and the standards relating to organic animal production and the slaughter of animals.

The Advocate General observes that organic products are subject to stricter production requirements than those applicable to non-organic ones. In that regard, he notes that the court of Justice has underlined the importance that must be afforded to the objectives of food safety and consumer protection in order to preserve consumer confidence in products labelled as organic. However, the relevant legislation says relatively little about the standards applicable to the slaughter of animals and does not prohibit slaughter without stunning, as it is only required that, during slaughter, any suffering is to be kept to a minimum.

Although slaughter after stunning is established as the rule by the Regulation on the protection of animals at the time of killing, an exception is provided for the ritual slaughter of animals without stunning in conditions that ensure that the suffering of the animals will be limited. In both slaughter methods, the necessary measures should be taken to avoid pain and minimise the distress and suffering of animals. The Advocate General adds that, although they say relatively little on slaughter without stunning, the Regulation on organic production and labelling of organic products and its Implementing Regulation impose no conditions in relation to stunning prior to killing in order to benefit from the indication ‘organic farming’; therefore, they do not exclude the practice of ritual slaughter. It is the Advocate General’s position that the fact that these provisions are silent cannot be regarded as purely fortuitous, given that, inter alia, that question has long been known and recognised in the provisions governing the slaughter of animals.

Thus, applying his reasoning to ‘kosher’ and ‘halal’ indications, the Advocate General considers that to conclude that ritual slaughter is incompatible with the label of ‘organic farming’ would be tantamount to adding a condition not provided for in the current rules and would deny consumers of kosher or halal products the right to benefit from the guarantees provided by the ‘organic farming label’ in terms of quality and food safety.

Therefore, the Advocate General proposes that the court find that the Regulation on organic production and labelling of organic products and the Regulation on the protection of animals at the time of killing do not prohibit the issue of the European ‘organic farming’ label to products from animals which have been the subject of ritual slaughter without prior stunning carried out in the conditions laid down in the latter regulation.

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