Nieuws - 11 juli 2011

Ritual slaughter proceedings: reading matter for policy researchers

Can interest groups press charges against a research organization because they do not agree with the results of its research? That was the issue at stake in the court case brought by Jewish organizations against Bert Lambooij’s slaughter research. The court has provided useful reading material for policy researchers.

If you want to read the judgement in its entirety (in Dutch), you can find it on the court's website. Readers do first have to work through a barrage of highly detailed questions put by the organization of the Jewish communities in the Netherlands (NIK) about ritual slaughter before eventually coming to the court's judgment regarding the Jewish communities' action. This involves fundamental issues such as the freedom of religion versus the freedom of science and freedom of speech. The most significant passages in the ruling are summarized below. For the sake of clarity: the case concerns reports no. 161 and 398, which were produced by Bert Lambooij of Wageningen UR Livestock Research and commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture.

  1. The Jewish communities dispute the independence of Lambooij's study. The judge says on this subject: "It must be noted that there are concerns about the independence of scientific research that is carried out by universities and other research institutes, DLO in particular, and is commissioned and paid for by third parties. That is demonstrated by the report 'Who pays, decides?', published in March 2006, and subtitled 'Advice to the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality about the need for independence and diversity in scientific research'. However, no plausible case has been made for facts or circumstances that are grounds for specific doubts about the scientific independence of reports no. 161 and 398" (...) "More specifically, there are no tangible, compelling indications that the content of the reports has been subject to political or commercial influences, as NIK et al. seem to assume and fear."

  2. The Jewish communities feel the reports are an infringement of the freedom of religion because Parliament will be banning slaughter without stunning on the basis of these reports. The judge: "It is not clear whether the order to produce these reports was directly linked to the proposed legislation that is currently being dealt with. In any case, it should be noted that the proposed legislation is a private member's bill proposed by Marianne Thieme, a member of the Lower House, and not an initiative of the Ministry. A different matter is the fact that these reports do play a part, possibly even a large part, in the debate about this private member's bill in and outside Parliament. It cannot be said that the two reports as such constitute an infringement of the freedom of religion, even if they do contain results, conclusions and recommendations displeasing to NIK et al."

  3. The Jewish communities want to force Lambooij to give further clarification about his research; otherwise he should withdraw his report. The judge: "In the context of the debate, NIK et al. is completely free to question the accuracy of the reports. However, it is not an appropriate approach to force the researchers and those compiling the reports to comment on what are, in the opinion of NIK et al., the current omissions and errors, with a view to bringing an action to ensure a revision of these reports. Any errors or deficiencies will in principle be exposed through scientific discourse. Furthermore, an intervention by the judiciary regarding the research results as stated in the reports might interfere with political decision-making."

  4. Despite this, the judge did express an opinion about the Wageningen reports: "Incidentally, it cannot be said that reports no. 161 and 398 are so apparently or obviously incorrect in one or more points that there is a legal duty founded on an unlawful act to answer one or more questions. The criticism in TNO's report concerning report no. 161 is not such that there is a plausible case for apparent or obvious scientific inaccuracy. (...) Finally, it is worth noting that the report produced for the European DIALREL project contains similar conclusions and recommendations to report no. 161, and TNO has not criticized that report."

  5. And is a researcher allowed to make a statement in a report that cannot be proved incontrovertibly using the underlying research? Yes, says the judge. "It must be assumed that even in scientific publications, individuals should be free to some extent to express an opinion or give a warning based on their research, even if the opinion or warning is not strictly speaking grounded in the results of their research in the scientific sense."

All in all, Wageningen UR did not act unlawfully according to the judge, and the Jewish communities' claim was rejected.