Lithuania has approved the ritual slaughter of animals starting in 2015. Cows, sheep and poultry killed by a single cut to the carotid artery can be declared kosher or halal and sold to Israel and Muslim countries.
With the new law, which passed Tuesday by a vote of 57-4 with 11 abstentions, Lithuania's government can open up new export markets to lessen the damage to trade following an embargo by Russia. Agriculture Minister Virginija Baltraitiene has said the export ban could cost Lithuanian business up to 87 million euros ($110 million) by the end of 2014 without new markets.
"The new law allows us to start talk with Arab countries over our meat exports," Baltraitiene told the news agency AFP after the vote. "We are also in talks with Israel."
In 2012, the top court in neighboring Poland banned the ritual slaughter of animals as cruel. Jewish and Muslim organizations joined with meat producers complaining about heavy economic losses from exports to protest the ban.
The move comes as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) singled out Lithuania as the EU member most vulnerable to Russia's embargo, leveled in August in retaliation against sanctions over the country's support of separatists in Ukraine. The embargo includes imports of meats, fruit and vegetables, fish, and dairy products from the European Union, the United States, Australia, Canada and Norway.
Set to last for a year, the embargo affects one-fifth of Lithuania's exports to Russia, or about 4 percent of the country's total. Because of the emargo, Lithuania's central bank has cut the country's 2014 growth forecast from 3.3 percent to 2.9 percent.
Lithuania's Jewish and Muslim communities each number about 3,000 people in the Baltic nation of 3 million, which joined the EU and NATO in 2004 and plans to adopt the euro in 2015. Under the new law, which comes into effect in 2015, slaughterhouses can kill animals by slitting their throats without first stunning them - a method deplored by animal rights activists as inhumane.
Faina Kukliansky, chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, welcomed the move, calling it "very important to Lithuanian Jews," who had a large and vibrant presence prior to the invasion and occupation by Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.
The Green member of parliament Linas Balsys voted against the measure, however, calling ritual slaughter unethical and a potential breach of EU regulations covering cruelty to animals. Organizations within Lithuania have announced that they will appeal the decision before the European Commission.