The European Court of Justice ruled Thursday that authorities can order animals to be stunned before slaughter in a move decried by Jewish groups as attacking religious freedom.
The court backed a regulation imposed in the Flemish region of Belgium banning the slaughter of livestock that have not been stunned on animal rights grounds.
The measure was seen as effectively outlawing the Muslim halal and Jewish kosher traditions, which require livestock to be conscious when their throats are slit.
"The court concludes that the measures contained in the decree allow a fair balance to be struck between the importance attached to animal welfare and the freedom of Jewish and Muslim believers to manifest their religion," the ruling said.
An umbrella organization for Jewish groups in Belgium slammed the decision as a "denial of democracy" that did not respect the rights of minority groups.
"The fight continues, and we will not admit defeat until we have exhausted all our legal remedies, which is not yet the case," Yohan Benizri, head of the Belgian Federation of Jewish Organisations, said.
Rabbi Menachem Margolin, chairman of the European Jewish Association, said the ruling represented a "sad day for European Jewry".
"What a terrible message to send to European Jewry, that you and your practices are not welcome here. This is a basic denial of our rights as European citizens," he said in a statement.
Belgium's Flanders regional government issued the order in 2017 which took effect in 2019 that abattoirs must stun livestock before slaughtering them.
Animal rights activists had pushed for the ban, arguing that stunning animals so that they are unconscious when they are killed is more humane.
Belgian authorities argued that the measure would "reduce their suffering" but it was widely perceived as being targeted at the Muslim halal tradition.