The Dutch government said Wednesday it will study new standards for ritual slaughter to satisfy animal rights activists without infringing on ancient Jewish and Muslim traditions, and will not ban the practice outright.
The announcement that a commission will be appointed to draw up a tightened regime for supervising the slaughter followed a political deadlock in the Dutch parliament.
By a wide margin, the lower house approved a ban earlier this year on the traditional method of cutting the animal's throat without stunning it first. After an outcry that the ban would violate religious freedoms, support evaporated when the bill was sent to the upper house this month for approval.
Undersecretary for Agriculture Henk Bleker's office said the commission will draw up standards on how long animals can remain conscious and on educating slaughterers. It will include registration and quality requirements for slaughterhouses.
A small animal rights party proposed the ban and it won backing from a large anti-Islam political party and a solid majority of Dutch voters, leading to easy passage in Parliament's Second Chamber.
But Christian political parties opposed it from the start out of concern for religious minorities. After protests from Jewish and Muslim groups, both local and international, centrist parties on the left and right reversed their position in the Senate. They said reforms to slaughtering practices are a higher priority than the relatively small number of religious slaughters.
Muslims, mostly immigrants from Turkey and Morocco, represent about 1 million of the 16 million Dutch population. The once-strong Jewish community numbers around 50,000 after most were deported and killed by the Nazis during World War II.
In both religions, dietary law prescribes that animals' throats be cut swiftly with a razor-sharp knife while they are still conscious, so that they bleed to death quickly.
Much of the debate, extending over several years, focused on the suffering of the animal.
The Royal Dutch Veterinary Association said it believes slaughtering cattle in particular while still conscious inflicts unnecessary pain, but Jewish groups said no scientific evidence exists that a cow properly slaughtered by a trained and ordained slaughterer suffers more than if it is stunned.
(This version corrects Bleker's first name.)