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‘How can there be Jews in Europe if you keep bringing in laws against us?,’ asks Jewish leader after Greece rules to ban slaughter without stunning

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Jewish freedom of religion is under direct attack across Europe from the very institutions that have vowed to protect our communities, said European Jewish Association Chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin following Greece’s Supreme Court’s ruling that ritual slaughter without stunning violates EU law, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

The ruling is an immediate consequence of a ruling by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg last December that member countries may ban the practice of ritual slaughter in order to promote animal welfare, without infringing the rights of religious groups.

The December ruling said that the EU’s animal slaughter regulation “does not preclude member states from imposing an obligation to stun animals prior to killing which also applies in the case of slaughter prescribed by religious rites”, but encouraged member states to find a balance.

"It is now clear that a number of member states are zealously applying the former whilst ignoring the latter," said Rabbi Margolin in a reaction to the Greek decision.

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The Brussels-based European Jewish Association represents hundreds of communities across the continent.

“We warned in December about the downstream consequences that the European Court of Justice ruling carried with it, and now we see the outcome. Jewish freedom of religion is under direct attack. It started in Belgium, moved to Poland and Cyprus and now it is Greece’s turn.

“These direct attacks are coming from many of the same governments and institutions who have sworn to protect their Jewish communities. What we are witnessing is rank hypocrisy," said the EJA leader.

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He added: "When it comes to antisemitism, governments and institutions rightly stand behind us. But when our faith and practice is assailed left and right by laws, they are nowhere to be seen, nowhere to be found."

“What use is it to protect Jews while legislating fundamental pillars of our religion out of existence?,’’ he asked.

He said his group ‘’will urgently making representations to the highest levels of the Greek government to get direct answers to this simple but fundamental question: How can there be Jews in Europe if you keep bringing in laws against us?’’

Under freedom of religion, which is protected by the European Union as a human right, EU legislation allows exemption on religious grounds for non-stunned slaughter provided that they take place in authorized slaughterhouses. Jewish kosher religious practice requires livestock to be conscious when their throats are slit.

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Animal welfare

Commission carries out unannounced inspections in the animal health sector in Belgium

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The European Commission is conducting unannounced inspections at the premises of a pharmaceutical company active in animal health in Belgium.

The Commission has concerns that the inspected company may have infringed the EU antitrust rules that prohibit the abuse of a dominant position. The Commission officials were accompanied by their counterparts from the Belgian competition authority.

Unannounced inspections are a preliminary investigatory step into suspected anti-competitive practices. The fact that the Commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are being found guilty of anti-competitive behaviour nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself.

The Commission fully respects the rights of defence in its antitrust proceedings, in particular the right of companies to be heard.

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The inspections are conducted in compliance with all coronavirus health and safety protocols to ensure the security of those involved.

There is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anti-competitive conduct. Their duration depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the companies concerned co-operate with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence.

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Animal welfare

Jewish groups challenge European Court of Justice ruling on religious slaughter

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European Jewish Association Chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin

The Belgian Constitutional Court upheld a ruling of the European Court of Justice that member states of the European Union can ban religious slaughter without pre-stunning. The ban voted by the Flemish and Walloon regions has been challenged by Jewish groups who argue that under freedom of religion, which is protected by the European Union as a human right, EU legislation allows exemption on religious grounds for non-stunned slaughter provided that they take place in authorised slaughterhouses, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

“The Belgian Constitutional Court has shamefully upheld a decision that is openly hostile to a fundamental pillar of Jewish practice,’’ stated Rabbi Menachem Margolin, Chairman of the European Jewish Association, in a reaction to the decision by Belgium’s Constitutional Court on Thursday to uphold a decision by the European Court of Justice banning religious slaughter without pre-stunning, thereby also upholding a similar decision by the Belgian Walloon and Flemish regions. Lamenting the court decision, he said however that provided an opportunity for European countries to show their support to Jewish communities and protect this central tenet of faith and practice. “What gets to the Jewish Communities the most is the two-faced approach of some countries towards Jewish Communities. On the one side they are solidly supportive when it comes to the fight against antisemitism, on the other they have no difficulty in effectively legislating Jewish faith and practice out of existence. ‘ Rabbi Margolin continued, “Worse still these countries are blissfully ignorant of this massive contradiction and its catastrophic effects on Jews across Europe. This decision, if replicated, is a real threat to Jewish life across Europe. Every bit as threatening as rising antisemitism, and in a sense even worse as it directly targets the very tenets of our beliefs. Now is the time for European countries to stand behind their Jewish communities and leave Belgium isolated and an outlier of how not to treat Jews”. The European Jewish Association is a Brussels-based advocacy group representing Jewish communities across Europe.

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European Parliament to vote on animal-free research, testing and education

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Anyone who is familiar with Ralph, a test rabbit mascot that is subject to Draize eye irritancy test in cosmetics labs and suffers from blindness, will wonder how such cruelty is still acceptable in an age of advanced science and technology. The Save Ralph video went viral all over the world and became most probably the reason why Mexico recently joined the ranks of states, which banned animal testing for cosmetics. So did the EU back in 2013. The EU plans to go even further by adopting a resolution on “a co-ordinated Union-level action to facilitate the transition to innovation without the use of animals in research, testing and education” this week (15 September), writes Eli Hadzhieva.

Although the EU encourages the use of non-animal methods, such as the new organ-on-chip technology, computer simulations and 3-D cultures of human cells, research shows that archaic methods, such as “50 percent lethal dose” killing half of the millions of test animals, are still widely in use. Moreover, evidence growingly shows that some animals, such as rabbits and rodents, are completely different species from humans to be seen as reliable proxies for the protection of human health from chemical risks. For example, drugs, such as thalidomide, TGN1412 or fialuridine, aimed at treating morning sickness, leukaemia and Hepatitis B respectively, proved totally safe for animals but could not be tolerated by humans.

According to the European Commission, the European chemicals strategy for sustainability increased support for use of Non-Animal Methodologies (NAMs) in Chemicals Risk Assessment, especially with several Horizon 2020 projects (ASPIS Cluster comprising RISK-HUNT3R, ONTOX and PrecisionTOX projects), the upcoming REACH and Cosmetics Regulation revisions, the new project of the European Partnership for Alternative Approaches on NAMs use in risk assessment, PARC with the objective of transitioning to next generation risk assessment and a Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda. The global acceptance of non-animal and innovative approaches to chemical safety is also high on the OECD agenda.

A webinar organised on 9 September by EU-ToxRisk and PATROLS, two multi-stakeholder projects funded by the EU’s H2020 Program, illustrated the limitations of the existing in vitro (test-tube experiments) and in silico (computer-simulated experiments) hazard detection systems while showcasing a new toolbox to conduct animal-free assessments for chemicals and nanomaterials. EU-ToxRisk project coordinator Bob van der Water from Leiden University highlighted his vision “to drive a paradigm shift in toxicology towards an animal-free, mechanism-based integrated approach to chemical safety assessment” through an established NAM toolbox based on in vitro and in silico tools and novel next generation NAM toolbox components. He emphasised advanced novel test systems, such as CRISPR-based fluorescent reporters in stem cells, stem-cell derived multi-liver-cell model, diseased liver micro-tissues and four-organ-chip while highlighting that NAMs should rapidly be integrated into regulatory testing frameworks.

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Shareen Doak, the Coordinator of PATROLS from Swansea University highlighted the knowledge gaps regarding long term effects of realistic engineered nanomaterial (ENM) exposures for human and health environment while demonstrating innovative methods, such as extrinsic ENM properties, advanced ecotoxicity tests, heterotypic in vitro models of the lung, GIT and liver etc. “These methods are tailored to better understand human and environmental hazards and should be implemented as part of the EU’s safe and sustainable-by-design strategy to minimise the need for animal testing”, she said.

“The biggest challenge is the acceptance and the implementation of NAMs. Standard validation requirements are too long and the applicability domain of NAMs needs to be established considering new emerging technologies”, she added.

In an earlier statement, the ASPIS Cluster expressed support for the motion for resolution of the European Parliament describing it as “timely to accelerate an animal-free transition and meet EU ambition to lead on the next generation for risk assessment in Europe and worldwide” all by welcoming EU efforts “which will translate into regulatory and industrial practices that will better protect human health and the ecosystems, by enabling us to identify, classify and ultimately remove hazardous substances from the environment”.

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The moderator of the webinar MEP Tilly Metz (Greens, Luxembourg), also shadowing the European Parliament’s resolution, said that she hopes that the final resolution will contain the following elements: “Concrete steps to phase out animal testing, precise roadmaps and studies, a coordinated approach by EU agencies, such as the European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemicals Agency and fast implementation of new advanced methods”.

This gives a lot of food for thought for policymakers in a make-or-break moment for Ralph and his animal and human friends. It’s time that words translate into action and the regulatory environment evolves in line with new realities on the ground while giving a breathing space to these promising and safe animal-free technologies by adopting a dynamic approach to accept and use them. This will not only allow us to live up to the zero-pollution ambition in the Green Deal but will also deliver “a toxic-free environment” both for animals and humans.

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