Sunday, 8 July 2012

The Dutch Party for the Animals

One of the interesting things I learnt at Minding Animals had to do with the work of the Dutch Party for the Animals. 

The Party for the Animals was formed in response to a backlash against vegans and animal rights activists that occurred when an environmentalist/animal rights activists shot and killed a Dutch politician in 2002.

The Party for the Animals has since gone on to contest a number of Dutch elections and now holds two seats in the national Parliament. As they say on their website:

In the Netherlands, we are represented in the House of Representatives, the Senate, the Provincial States and in six city councils. That is unique: never before has a political party devoted to animal welfare been elected to a national parliament anywhere else in the world. 

The party has been working on many issues, including religious slaughter. As part of that work they uses Peter Singer's attendance at Minding Animals as an opportunity and asked Prof. Singer to address the Dutch Parliament. 

As well as making the address, Peter Singer also wrote an opinion piece on ritual slaughter and religious freedom. In it he argues that the solution is simple. If your religion requires that you harm animals in the production of meat, just do what he does - don't eat meat. Singer writes:

When people are prohibited from practicing their religion — for example, by laws that bar worshiping in certain ways — there can be no doubt that their freedom of religion has been violated. But prohibiting the ritual slaughter of animals does not stop Jews or Muslims from practicing their religion. During the debate on the Party for the Animals’ proposal, Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, chief rabbi of the Netherlands, told members of parliament: “If we no longer have people who can do ritual slaughter in the Netherlands, we will stop eating meat.” And that, of course, is what one should do, if one adheres to a religion that requires animals to be slaughtered in a manner less humane than can be achieved by modern techniques.
Neither Islam nor Judaism upholds a requirement to eat meat. And I am not calling upon Jews and Muslims to do any more than I have chosen to do myself, for ethical reasons, for more than 40 years.

One of the interesting things about hearing members of the Party for the Animals speak at Minding Animals is that they feel as though their presence in Parliament has forced other parties to think about their position on animals - and to also defend it!

As a post script, on arriving in Amsterdam I bought a falafel at a vegetarian shop in town. I got talking to the person next to me and he told me that he is a member of the Party for the Animals and that 'it is the only political party he could belong to'. However, he was also critical of their stance on ritual slaughter. He argued that their approach had put others offside. I was very interested to hear his views and I look forward to learning more about the Dutch party for the animals as I travel around the country.  

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