New fears have been raised over the future of shechita by a Polish court ruling that could lead to the banning of religious slaughter in that country and threaten kosher meat supplies in Europe and Israel.
A Polish constitutional tribunal ruled on Tuesday that a derogation (partial exemption from a law) which allows Jews and Muslims to kill animals without pre-stunning was unconstitutional and incompatible with animal welfare laws.
Seventeen slaughter houses in Poland were covered by the derogation.
Shechita campaigners across Europe have warned that this latest win by opponents is part of a cumulative bandwagon which may become unstoppable.
Henry Grunwald QC, chairman of Shechita UK, the campaign group which thwarted a 2010 move in the European Union that would have made kosher meat unviable, said: “This is a threat to Jewish life. As soon as you think you have one situation under control then another problem crops up.”
Campaigners warned that the Polish court’s decision to end the exemption would have an immediate impact on kosher consumers in Britain if Polish imports are no longer available.
Poland is one of Europe’s leading kosher meat-producing countries. It supplies around one-fifth of all kosher meat eaten in France and Israel.
That figure is slightly lower in Britain but a ban on shechita in Poland would still have a noticeable effect here. One of north west London’s leading kosher butchers is understood to source almost all its beef from Poland.
A Shechita UK spokesman said the Polish Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling “casts serious doubt on the future of shechita in Poland”.
“We have to recognise that, in the current market, any loss of supply of kosher meat is going to translate to higher prices for the kosher consumer in the UK.
“Shechita UK will continue its work with increased vigour as this situation reinforces our view that relying on imports is simply not an option.”
The Polish ruling is the latest challenge to Jewish practice in Europe following efforts in Germany to regulate circumcision and threats to shechita in countries including the Netherlands.
Animal welfare organisations used legislative loopholes to secure the overturning of the derogation, which had been imposed by Agriculture Minister Stanislaw Kalemba using a ministerial decree.
New European Union legislation due to come into effect on January 1, 2013, will introduce new arrangements for slaughter licences.
Regulation EU 1099/2009 allows countries to enforce their own rules. Poland’s derogation could be seen as a test case for others to follow, but this week’s ruling casts doubt on whether the exemption could be applied elsewhere.
Mr Grunwald said it was “not possible to separate” Polish animal rights campaigners’ concerns from the threat to kosher consumers. “Animal rights campaigners are very worthy people, but they do not always consider the effects on other people of what they are doing.”
Rabbi Menachem Margolin, European Jewish Association general director, has written to Polish president Bronisław Komorowski and the country’s chief justice to warn that the decision will be “devastating to Jewish welfare and freedom of religion” and that an “instant feeling had risen among Jews all over the world”.
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, President of the Conference of European Rabbis, said that the CER’s most recent meeting with President Komorowski had indicated that “political will” existed to protect shechita.
“Our challenge is to ensure that translates into a swift resolution of this constitutional confusion,” said the rabbi.