Poland: Ritual slaughter discussions stopped

01 October 2013

Krzysztof Korwin-Kossakowski

In July Poland witnessed a stormy discussion over the planned amendment law on ritual slaughter. The amendment was constructed to allow ritual slaughter and was to adjust the Polish Animal Protection Act to Council Regulation No 1099/2009 of 24 September 2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing. The Council Regulation permits ritual slaughter conducted for religious purposes (animals may be killed without stunning beforehand) but each country may adopt rules ensuring more extensive protection of animals at the time of killing.

Since 2002 ritual slaughter in Poland had been regulated by two contradictory regulations: the Animal Protection Act that banned ritual slaughter, and the Minister of Agriculture Regulation on qualifications of persons conducting professional animal slaughter that allowed ritual slaughter. Slaughter houses conducting ritual slaughter operated on the basis of the regulation of the Minister of Agriculture. In December 2012 the Polish Constitution Tribunal ruled the Minister Regulation to be unconstitutional and ritual slaughter was banned as of 1 January 2013. The amendment was announced only 5 months after the ban.

With big money at stake, the discussion between two divided camps grew in intensity. One argued that slaughter was inhumane while the other claimed the ban to be against the freedom of religion. However, the predominant part of the discussion focused on the economical aspects of the amendment.

Over the past few years the worldwide production of meat in accordance with religious standards (kosher and halal) has been growing significantly and it has also become an important part of the Polish meat market. It is worth mentioning that kosher and halal food has also gained customers among non-religious followers who consider such food to be of better quality.

Kosher and halal meat produced in Poland was mainly destined for export. In 2011 Poland exported about 270 thousand tons (595 million pounds) of halal and kosher meat. It was estimated that the Polish kosher and halal meat market was worth about PLN 1.5 billion (EUR 375 million). Experts estimated that upholding the ban would lead to a 30% decrease in the total production of slaughter houses producing halal and kosher food (which could also lead to redundancies).

After a massive media discussion, the Polish Parliament voted on 12 July and decided not to adopt the amendment. As a result, Poland became the forth European country, after Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, where ritual slaughter is banned.

The Polish battle over ritual slaughter also has its international aspect. After the amendment was rejected, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Polish ambassador in Israel, demanded explanations, and expressed Israel's discontent with the ban.

Despite the wide discussion (also concerning legal aspects) it remains unclear what the ban means for the followers of Judaism or Islam. The law governing the relationship of each of these religions and Poland declares freedom of religious exercise. Since ritual slaughter forms part of religious exercise, some believe that religious followers may still cultivate it. It is almost sure that Poland will witness further discussions on ritual slaughter in the near future.