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Dutch pass livestock slaughter bill

The Dutch parliament has passed a bill banning the slaughter of livestock without stunning it first, removing an exemption that has allowed Jews and Muslims to butcher animals according to their centuries-old dietary rules.

If enacted and enforced, religious groups said observant Jews and Muslims would have to import meat from abroad, stop eating it altogether, or leave the Netherlands.

However, the bill must still pass the Senate, which is unlikely before the summer recess, and the cabinet said the law may be unenforceable in its current form due in part to ambiguity introduced in a last-minute amendment.

If the Netherlands outlaws procedures that make meat kosher for Jews or halal for Muslims, it will be the second country after New Zealand to do so in recent years.

It will join Switzerland, the Scandinavian and Baltic countries, whose bans are mostly traceable to pre-Second World War anti-semitism.

In New York, the Anti-Defamation League condemned the vote in the lower house, with its national director, Abraham H Foxman, calling it "a de facto ban on kosher slaughter" that "has repudiated the Netherlands' historic commitment to religious freedom".

"Dutch Jews must not be put to the choice of violating a central tenet of Judaism, foregoing fresh meat, or emigrating. We call upon the Dutch Senate to prevent this action from leading to a clear violation of religious freedom that has a disproportionate impact on the Jewish community," Mr Foxman said in a statement.

Dutch deputy secretary of economic affairs and agriculture Henk Blekers said: "The cabinet will give its judgment over the proposed law after it has been treated by both houses." The Cabinet will "also look at how it fits with freedom of religion," Mr Blekers added, citing the European Convention on Human Rights.

But the threat of a possible ban has led to outcry from Jewish and Muslim groups who say it infringes on their right to freedom of religion.

Around one million Muslims live in the Netherlands, mostly immigrants from Turkey and Morocco. The once-strong Jewish community now numbers 40,000-50,000 after more that 70% were deported and killed by the Nazis during the Second World War.

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