Religion (or perhaps the passionate, protective sense of identity that religions engender) has an extraordinary way of triggering disputes about matters that make no difference in the real world. Take the heated arguments that have broken out in Denmark, and far beyond, over this week's ban on the ritual slaughter of animals by Jewish or Muslim rules. Such slaughter is already banned in at least five European countries. There are no slaughterhouses which use the ritual method in Denmark, because there is not enough local demand to keep such a facility going; people who want to eat ritually slaughtered meat simply import the product, and they face no obstacle.

Yet Dan Jorgensen, Denmark's Food and Ariculture minister, finds himself in the middle of a storm. It's rather confusing for an affable politician who is more used to plaudits than brickbats. He has won praise for his previous animal-welfare initiatives, which include curbs on long-distance transport of livestock and a ban on docking piglets' curly tails.

His latest initiative is the prohibition of animal slaughter without first rendering the beasts insensitive to pain with a bolt-gun or some other method. The move was welcomed by many Danes, who think that causing unnecessary suffering to animals on their journey from farm to dinner table is a throwback to darker times. But it provoked the ire of some of Denmark's religious minorities which might now attempt to get the move reversed by the European Court for Human Rights.

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