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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » August 1, 2013
Politics & Society
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Row Over Ritual Slaughter
August 1, 2013   
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The issue of ritual slaughter became one of the hottest topics in Polish politics in July, while also causing ripples abroad.

Deputies July 12 voted against a government-backed bid to reinstate the ritual slaughter of animals for kosher and halal meat, despite protests from Jews and Muslims and concerns about damage to the Polish meat industry.

A total of 222 deputies voted to reject the proposal; 178 were in favor of the measure; nine deputies abstained.

Prior to the vote, the ruling Civic Platform (PO) decided against enforcing party voting discipline. As a result, 38 PO deputies voted against the legislation, seven abstained, and 37 did not take part in the vote. Among those voting against their own party’s proposal was Sejm Speaker Ewa Kopacz.

The government’s proposal—seeking to amend a law on the protection of animals—was the result of a ruling issued by Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal in November last year under pressure from animal-rights groups, who say ritual slaughter is cruel. The court ruled that the regulations on the basis of which ritual slaughter was allowed in Poland—introduced by the country’s agriculture minister in 2004—were contrary to the law on the protection of animals and thus unconstitutional. The ban on ritual slaughter in Poland has been in force since the beginning of 2013.

The government’s proposal sought to allow slaughter without stunning for religious purposes provided it was carried out in slaughterhouses. At the same time, the proposal sought to ban the use of the so-called rotating cage during the ritual slaughter, which, according to animal-rights activists, was an inhumane method that made the animal suffer while bleeding to death. The cage worked in such a way that the animal was locked and immobilized inside it so that only the head was sticking out. Then the cage was rotated so that the head was down, and a butcher authorized by a religious association would slit the animal’s throat.

The Ministry of Agriculture argued that maintaining the ban on ritual slaughter would have serious consequences for the economy and result in a loss of about 6,000 jobs across the meat industry. There was also talk about losses for slaughterhouses, meat processing plants, and the entire economy. Farmers argue that, because of the ban, the price of Polish meat exported abroad has dropped by zl.2.50 per kilogram.

Industry professionals say ritual slaughter accounted for 10 percent of Poland’s total poultry exports last year and for a third of the country’s beef exports. In 2012, the value of Polish poultry exports reached 1.2 billion euros, and beef exports were worth 1.35 billion euros.

Ritual slaughter is now legal in 22 countries in the European Union. Polish meat industry professionals argued that maintaining the ban in Poland would lead to a situation in which Polish producers would lose customers, while producers from countries such as Germany and the Netherlands would benefit.

Those opposing the government’s legislation, on the other hand, argued that during the six months the ban on ritual slaughter has been in force, employment in Polish slaughterhouses has not dropped, nor have Polish producers lost their export markets.

Meanwhile, some 100 intellectuals, artists, writers and journalists joined the debate by signing an open letter urging parliamentarians to vote against legalizing ritual slaughter in Poland. “We strongly appeal for a vote against the slaughter of animals in Poland without stunning,” they wrote. “Exposing conscious beings to suffering before death, while we kill them for our own needs, is a terrifying evil and the majority of Poles are against it. Permitting the widely—and rightly—condemned slaughter method would do disservice to the long-term interests of the religious minorities which demand it, because it would create negative sentiment among the majority of the population and frustrate efforts to combat xenophobia and discrimination.”

The rejection of the government’s proposal has provoked an uproar among Jewish community leaders in Poland. Michael Schudrich, the chief rabbi of Poland, threatened to resign, saying the ban on ritual slaughter hits the Jewish and Muslim communities living in Poland.

Schudrich voiced hope, however, that in the coming months a way would be worked out to permit such slaughter for religious needs. If not, he told reporters he “cannot imagine continuing in office.”

Schudrich, who has been the chief rabbi of Poland since December 2004, called the July 12 parliamentary vote “the worst day in the life of the Jewish diaspora in Poland since the 1930s.”

The Polish parliament’s decision has also been criticized by the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Anti-Defamation League active in the United States. David Harris, director of the American Jewish Committee, urged Polish lawmakers and judicial authorities to recognize the right of Jewish communities to prepare kosher meat according to Jewish tradition as soon as possible. Abraham F. Foxman, director of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, in turn, issued a statement in which he wrote that the majority of Polish deputies gave the Polish Jewish community three choices: “don’t practice your religion, don’t eat meat, or don’t live among us.” According to Foxman, the parliamentary vote was “a clear violation of religious freedom” in Poland.

Despite the criticism, the Polish government says it has no plans to try again to overturn the ban. Prime Minister Donald Tusk said, “After the vote my mind was sad but my heart rejoiced.”
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