Viva! Poland’s victory was reported around the world, including a large piece in the New York Times. It ignored entirely concerns over animal cruelty and concentrated solely on a perceived threat to Jewish culture and Jewishness, implying there was political motivation behind the ban, promoted by “a mix of animal rights activists, leftists and right-wing nationalists.” The World Jewish Congress, it claimed, had raised it with the Pope who ‘specifically expressed concern about the ban.’ This campaign was not about politics or anti Jewishness but about reducing the suffering of animals
By Cezary Wyszynski, Viva! Poland Manager
It was not without a fight but a ban on ritual slaughter in Poland has been won by Viva!. It would never have happened if it had not been for videos published on the internet, which showed the process in all its brutality and horror. This was a pebble that created a ripple effect like no other in the history of the Polish animal welfare movement. It triggered an avalanche of questions – ‘How can it happen? Why is it possible? Who’s responsible?’
According to the Animal Welfare Act of 2002, unstunned slaughter was not permissible in Poland yet it was still happening in 2011. There was, however, a ministerial regulation in 2004 that allowed it and so there were two contradictory positions. In Polish law, an Act always takes precedence over a regulation. This raised a string of other questions.
First they ignore you...
We sent countless emails to MPs, animal welfare organisations and sympathetic lawyers but there was no answer. Some people regarded the problem as marginal and having no real impact on animal welfare. Some were uncomfortable with its religious connotations. Others suggested nothing could be done because of the meat industry and strong Jewish lobbies.
Viva! Poland was unimpressed by these fears and pulled together a coalition of animal rights groups. We found that religious slaughter was happening all over Poland but focussed on three abattoirs and filed complaints that they were breaking the law.
Public prosecutors failed to act, relying on assurances from the Ministry of Agriculture and General Veterinary Inspection that unstunned slaughter was permissible in Poland because of the ministerial regulation.
We refused to accept it and forced the government into a complex reappraisal of decisions involving the Animal Welfare Act by consecutive Agriculture Ministers, the General Prosecutor and the Polish Constitutional Court. They didn’t like it!
...then they laugh at you...
The Minister of Agriculture described us as a bunch of animal lovers that had got carried away. His best known comment was: “Let’s leave humanitarianism to humanists.” The laughter stopped when, on November 27, 2012, the Constitutional Court ruled that unstunned slaughter contradicted the Animal Welfare Act and was therefore unconstitutional. A ban should come into force on December 31, 2012, and Poland would have become one of the few countries that have outlawed ritual slaughter.
...then they fight you...
It was never going to be that easy. The Polish People’s Party (PSL), part of the ruling coalition, backed by the meat industry and religious groups, tried to get the new ban overturned. A fierce exchange of arguments lasted for months, amid claims that without ritual slaughter, the Polish economy would collapse.
Both sides organised protests in Warsaw and lobbied tirelessly in the Sejm (parliament) as the Government prepared to change the Animal Welfare Act to permit unstunned slaughter.
...then you win.
It failed and on July 12, 2013, the required majority of MPs (222) voted to drop the government’s proposed Act and uphold the ban on ritual slaughter. No law is set in stone and the pressure to reintroduce it will continue. However, we have shown the power of groups working together and the public’s growing awareness of animal rights and look to the future with hope. Who knows what kind of tsunami this pebble might create...