By Madeline Schiesser
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
WARSAW, Poland – On Tuesday, Poland’s Constitutional Court ruled that religious, or ritual, slaughter of animals used to produce kosher and halal meat is in violation of the constitution. The ruling comes weeks before a European Union law is to take effect allowing the practice.
Animal rights groups had petitioned Attorney General Andrzej Seremet to bring the case before the court. In June, Seremet argued that ritual slaughter for religious purposes was unconstitutional, and that a 2004 amendment allowing the practice violated a 1997 animal rights law permitting slaughter only “following the loss of consciousness” after stunning.
Although former Agricultural Minister Wojciech Olejniczak has claimed that the purpose of the 2004 amendment was to place Polish laws in line with those of the EU, the court ruled that, in the words of Judge Zbigniew Cieslak, “a decree that is supposed to serve in the execution of a law, and the realization of its goals, cannot be in opposition to it.”
The ruling brings Poland into conflict with current international EU laws, and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which includes sections on religious freedoms, such as the practice of ritual slaughter of animals.
Jewish and Muslim clerics have insisted that stunning an animal before slaughter is inconsistent with Jewish and Muslim practices for producing kosher and halal meats, respectively.
There are small Jewish and Muslim communities in the overwhelmingly Catholic nation of 38 million. It is estimated that about 6,000 Jews and several tens of thousands of Muslims live in Poland.
However, Poland is also a leading producer in kosher and halal meats, exporting to other European countries, Arab countries, Turkey and Israel. With two dozen slaughterhouses specifically specializing in kosher and halal meats, the export industry is valued at an estimated $259 million.
The same day that the court’s ruling is set to take effect, January 1, an EU directive (The European Convention for the Protection of Animals for Slaughter) also will become effect. The EU directive will set common rules for ritual slaughter across the EU, but will also allow individual counties to decide whether or not to apply these rules. Specifically, the new directive allows “derogation from stunning in case[s] of religious slaughter taking place in slaughterhouses,” but leaves “a certain level of subsidiarity to each Member State.”
Currently, Sweden has a complete ban on ritual slaughter. Last year the lower house of parliament in the Netherlands voted to enact a similar ban before backing down in the face of controversy. Non-EU countries Switzerland, Norway, and Iceland also have a ban.
Last year, during the Dutch debate on religious slaughter, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski defended it as an ancient practice said there was “a crisis of tolerance” in Europe.
Poland’s Agriculture Minister Stanislaw Kalemba has promised “[t]here will be no doubt about this as of January 1.” His ministry believes the EU law takes precedence and will act to remove any doubts about ritual slaughter’s legality in Poland. His ministry has already licensed 17 slaughterhouses to practice Jewish or Muslim religious slaughter.
However, animal rights groups have said Poland may still opt-out of the EU laws. “It’s up to us to decide whether we want a law authorizing this kind of slaughter or not,” said Dariusz Gzyra of the campaign group Empatia.
Additionally, Piotr Kadlcik, president of Poland’s Union of Jewish Communities, has said he believes the ruling contradicts a 1997 law on relations between his Union and the Polish state. “It appears there is a legal contradiction here and it is too early to tell what this means,” he said. “We are seeking legal advice on this right now.”
For further information, please see:
BBC News – Polish Ritual Slaughter Illegal, Court Rules – 28 November 2012
Polskie Radio – Ritual Slaughter of Farm Animals ‘Unconstitutional’ in Poland, Court Rules – 28 November 2012
France24 – Polish Court bans Ritual Slaughter, EU Gives Go-Ahead – 27 November 2012
Jerusalem Post – Polish Court Rules Against Ritual Slaughter – 28 November 2012