Poland court rules religious slaughter illegal

Despite constitutional court ruling, new EU directive set to take effect Jan. 1 likely to permit continued practice of shechita.

DO NOT USE shechita ritual_311 (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Vosizneias.com)
DO NOT USE shechita ritual_311
(photo credit: Nati Shohat/Vosizneias.com)
The Polish constitutional court ruled on Tuesday that the practice of ritual slaughter without stunning was illegal in Poland based on animal welfare considerations.
However, the decision will only come into effect on January 1, the same date on which a European Union directive regarding the production of kosher and halal meat will also come become operative and which will most likely supersede the constitutional court’s ruling.
Polish Minister for Agriculture Stanislaw Kalemba said on Polish radio following the decision that the EU law would indeed supplant the court ruling, ensuring that religious slaughter remains legal in the country.
The Warsaw court’s ruling said the government had acted unconstitutionally when it exempted Jews and Muslims from stunning animals before slaughtering them, according to Piotr Kadlcik, president of the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland.
But Kadlcik noted that in addition to the special exception provided by the Polish Ministry of Agriculture, Jewish ritual slaughter, or shechita, was also made permissible under the 1997 Law on Regulating the Relations between the State and the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland.
“It appears there is a legal contradiction here and it is too early to tell what this means,” Kadlcik said regarding the possible conflict between the court ruling and the EU directive.
“We are seeking legal advice on this right now.”
The Conference of European Rabbis (CER) also expressed concern with the possible legal problems arising from the ruling.
“This latest development in Poland is a deeply troubling challenge to a fundamental cornerstone of Jewish religious practice,” said Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the CER.
“We know from the CER’s most recent meeting with President Bronisaw Komorowski that the political will to protect Shechita is there. Our challenge is to ensure that translates into a swift resolution of this constitutional confusion.”
The EU directive, which will come into effect on January 1, sets common rules for the religious slaughter across the 27- nation bloc, but allows individual countries discretion on whether to apply these rules.
Poland’s chief prosecutor turned to the Constitutional Court in June at the behest of animal rights groups, AFP reported.
Poland has approximately 6,000 Jews, according to the European Jewish Congress.
Kadlcik said kosher meat is served at kosher canteens across the country. “I’m not sure we will be able to keep serving meat there,” he said.
According to AFP, Poland is home to two dozen slaughterhouses that specialize in kosher and halal slaughter, much of which is exported. The value of last year’s exports was estimated at $259 million.
In June 2011, a bill banning religious slaughter was passed in Holland by the Dutch parliament’s lower house, although it was rejected by the upper house earlier this year.