Last December the Polish Constitutional Court banned ritual slaughter after finding it violated the country’s animal protection laws, but it was unclear at the time whether the ban would be upheld.
The controversy over religious slaughter has been brewing in Poland since 1997 when the country required slaughter to “follow the loss of consciousness” after stunning under its Animal Protection Act — a step that is forbidden by kosher and halal rules.
Jewish shechita and Muslim dhabiha slaughter methods that produce kosher and halal meats require animals to be conscious during slaughter, which involves having their throats slit before they are bled out. Most countries require stunning prior to slaughter, which is believed to be more humane. However, in other countries, including the U.S., religious slaughter may be exempt from animal welfare laws.
Animal rights groups filed a petition over an exemption that allowed religious slaughter that was enacted in 2004 following objections to the ban from religious groups. Last year, the court decided that the exemption was unconstitutional and that slaughtering animals without stunning them first violated the 1997 Animal Protection Act.
Last week, the government rejected a bill that would have overturned the ban on religious slaughter.
The reactions to the ban being upheld have been mixed with some arguing religious intolerance. However, according to the Economist, no anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim arguments were used to debate the ban, only arguments for animal welfare and the country’s interest in keeping exports flowing.
Polish Chief Rabbi Schudrich compared the ban to Nazi propaganda and threatened to resign, but the loudest opposition seems to be coming from those who stand to lose money over the ban. What was intended to allow for religious slaughter for a small sector turned into big business.
According to The Independent, by 2011, up to 30 percent of all Polish beef exports came from ritually slaughtered cattle – more than 150,000 animals – and brought in about one billion euros. Following the ban, producers were the ones who stirred more outrage than religious communities.
However, this week Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk announced that he has no plans to reintroduce legislation to lift the ban, but added that the government would wait for a decision by a constitutional court on “whether the ban on kosher slaughter was harming the rights of religious minorities,” reports Reuters.
Still, the issue here isn’t about religious intolerance, it’s about animal suffering and the thousands of animals who remain fully aware of what is happening to them while they are being killed. While many exemptions exist for religious slaughter, most countries consider modern slaughter methods that involve a loss of consciousness prior to killing to be more humane and cause less stress to animals. Despite the protests over the ban, there are still some that sympathize with its goal.
Severyn Ashkenazy, the founder of the Progressive Jewish Community of Poland, stated that, “We Jews must behave honourably and lead in kindness toward animals… Now we live in the greatest scientific century, should we not rather trust a veterinary doctor than a mashgiach [supervisor of kosher observance]?”
Comparison of ritual slaughter methods vs. stunning (warning: graphic footage).
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