Kosher meat supplies in Britain could be threatened by legislation set to go before the Polish parliament which could drastically affect that country’s approach to religious slaughter.
Poland’s governing Law and Justice party (known by the acronym PiS) is promoting an animal welfare bill which includes a clause on shechita.
While not banning the practice, it makes it extremely hard to carry out, by demanding that an animal be standing upright as it is slaughtered. Currently slaughtermen can kill the animal in whatever position he or she chooses – usually the animal is laying down. The bill would also severely limit the export of kosher meat from Poland.
In the UK, almost all kosher animals and birds, including chickens, are slaughtered domestically. But Poland is a major source of kosher beef production, with products then imported to Britain. Israel gets almost all its kosher beef from Poland.
Rabbi Menachem Margolin, chairman of the European Jewish Association, told Israel’s Ynet news site that “kashrut laws forbid the application of any pressure on the knife, to protect the animal from unnecessary pain.
“Preventing this pressure is impossible when the animal is standing with its head leaning heavily on the knife.”
Despite his comments, many rabbis have no issue with an animal being slaughtered standing up - and for the last 30 years that is how animals have been shechted in Britain.
Rabbi Margolin called the situation “unacceptable” and called on the Polish government “to avoid enacting this shameful law and… take into account that the Jewish people’s faith in the Polish leadership is deteriorating”.
Over the last few weeks, the relationship between Poland and Israel has soured after Warsaw passed a law making it illegal to talk about Polish complicity in the Nazi crimes of the Holocaust, much of which took place on Polish soil.
A spokesperson for Shechita UK told the JC that while there had initially been an expectation that the proposed animal welfare law would be debated in the Sejm – the Polish parliament – this week, this had now been called into question, with speculation that the debate might be held before the end of the month – or possibly not until later this year.
“This bill is in the early stages. If it was in the British parliament, you can imagine, there would be umpteen amendments for discussion. Well, it’s pretty similar over there,” the spokesman said, adding that a lobbying by Jewish groups was taking place regarding the shechita-related clause.
“We are arguing that as it’s slaughter to order, it’s not for the general market, it’s for the Jewish market, that we should be allowed to shecht there, and they should be allowed to continue to export. All of these things are for discussion.”
With regard to Polish slaughterhouses, the spokesman said that “different shechita boards from different parts of the world go there. France goes to Poland, Israel goes to Poland, the UK goes.
“The UK, at least for another year or so, should have no problem with Poland, an EU member state; providing exports to another member state shouldn’t be a problem.
“Post-Brexit, we’re going to be in a much weaker position. At the present moment, whatever goes on in Poland, we would get equal treatment as a member state. But in a few month’s time? That’s a very difficult situation.”