A bill which would ban halal and kosher slaughter methods has passed through the Dutch parliament, despite opposition from Muslim and Jewish groups who say a ban would impinge on their religious freedoms.
The bill, which was passed overwhelmingly by parliamentarians on Wednesday, still has to pass through the Dutch senate, which is unlikely before the summer recess.
The Dutch cabinet said on Monday that the law may be unenforceable in its current form due to the ambiguity of a last-minute amendment that says religious slaughter licenses can be granted if they can "prove" that it does not cause animals more pain than stunning.
If the Netherlands outlaws procedures that make meat kosher for Jews or halal for Muslims, it would be the second country after New Zealand to do so in recent years. Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland also ban religious slaughter.
Henk Blekers, the Dutch deputy secretary of economic affairs and agriculture, said that the cabinet would "look at how it fits with freedom of religion", citing the European Convention on Human Rights.
Both halal and kosher slaughter rules prescribe that animals' throats must be cut swiftly with a razor-sharp knife while they are still conscious, so that they bleed to death quickly.
'Animal rights over religious rights'
But the Party for Animals, the main proponents of the proposed law, argue that sparing animals needless pain and distress outweighs religious groups' rights to follow their respective slaughter practices.
"They (livestock) stay conscious for up to 5 minutes. They lose a lot of blood and they can choke on their own blood and the cut should be one time, but research shows that with kosher slaughter (they are cut) on average 3.5 times, and with halal 5.5 times," Karen Soeters of the Party for Animals told Al Jazeera.
But defenders of the practices said that religious slaughter methods could be humane.
"With halal, the animal can't be stressed. It can't see other animals being killed," Abdulhakim Chouaati of the Dutch Halal Feed and Food Authority told Al Jazeera.
"It's our religion we're practicing, and expressing religion in our modern industrial society is not a thing which is appealing to the public," Ronnie Eisenmann, a Jewish community leader in the Netherlands told Al Jazeera.
In an open letter pleading with parliament not to pass the law, a a committee of rabbis said the impact on the Jewish community would be "deep and large".
"Older Jews are frightened and wonder what the next law will be that limits their religious life. The youth are openly asking whether they still have a future that they can or want to build in the Netherlands," the letter continued.
Only Christian political parties opposed the ban, arguing that it undermined the country's tradition of religious tolerance.
A solid majority of Dutch voters say they support the ban, and parliament voted for it by a margin of 116 for to 30 against.
The support for the ban comes from an odd pairing of the political left, which sees religious slaughter as inhumane, and from the anti-immigration right, which says it is foreign and barbaric.
Source: Al Jazeera and Agencies