Lithuania moves to takes advantage of Polish ban on ritual slaughter
A picture taken on March 15, 2012 in the French northern city of Hazebrouck, shows the Halal meat produce section of a Carrefour supermarket. [AFP]

Lithuania on Tuesday took a step towards legalising the ritual slaughter of livestock for food, seeking to expand its exports after neighbouring Poland imposed a ban.

"Arab countries and Israel represent new opportunities for meat exporters," lawmaker Vytautas Gapsys, who tabled the draft legislation, told parliament.

In the first reading, 51 lawmakers in the 141-seat parliament voted in favour of legalisation and two against, with seven abstentions.

According to EU law, animals in Lithuania and other member countries must be stunned before slaughter.

Kosher and halal slaughter require that an animal be killed by slitting its throat without first being stunned.

Two more parliamentary votes and a presidential signature are needed to approve the law that would exempt religious communities from the requirement.

Lithuania's tiny Jewish community on Tuesday welcomed the move.

"We would be pleased if the law is adopted. It could encourage exports and would also be important for the local community," community leader Faina Kukliansky told AFP.

The Jewish and Muslim communities each number around 3,000 people in the Baltic nation of three million people, which joined the European Union and NATO in 2004 and currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

Ritual slaughter was banned in EU neighbour Poland on January 1 after its Constitutional Court deemed it incompatible with animal rights legislation.

Polish farmers and exporters of meat to Israel and Muslim countries exported up to 350 million euros ($460 million) worth of kosher and halal meat a year before the ban.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]