Last week the Polish court ruled that a ban on the traditional Jewish and Muslim practice of slaughtering animals without stunning them first was unconstitutional as it infringed the rights of minority religious communities to practise their faith and tradition, following an appeal launched by the Association of Jewish Religious Communities.
UK certifier Sharia Halal Board said the “landmark ruling” preserved this right, and added: “The Constitutional Court also agrees that protection of animals could not take precedence over religious freedom.”
However, the UK National Secular Society (NSS) said whilst it supported the right to religious freedom, the slaughter method was not an absolute right, despite the court ruling the previous ban had gone against the country’s convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. “Whilst we respect the right to religious freedom, we do not believe this should extend to practices that inflict unnecessary suffering on animals," Stephen Evans, campaigns manager for the NSS society, told us.
The de facto ban, which removed the possibility of religious exemption from humane slaughter requirements under EU law, had been in place since January 2013 on the grounds of animal welfare.
A similar default ban was enforced in Denmark this year.
A case for labelling
Evans said the decision strengthened the case for mandatory pan-EU labelling of meat from religious slaughter, saying in an ideal world this would entail an on-pack statement of: "Meat from slaughter without stunning."
"If religious groups are to be granted exemptions from animal welfare laws, it is essential that meat from non-stun slaughter is accurately labelled enabling consumers to avoid such products if they so wish. At the moment such labelling is not required, and this needs to change."
An ongoing ideological debate
The court said a ban based on animal welfare concerns could ultimately be accused of hypocrisy. “The Tribunal stated that since in Polish society the slaughter of farmed animals for the purpose of obtaining meat for people was almost universally accepted, then a total ban on one of the methods (a ritual method) - protected by the freedom of religion, and as to which scientific studies had not unambiguously determined that in every case it was more painful than other methods – was not necessary for the protection of morals.”
Animal rights groups have spoken out against kosher and halal non-stun slaughter methods, which they say increase distress and pain for the animal.
The Sharia Halal Board said it endorsed pre-stun slaughter, and also deemed it a preferred method due to the large volume of production of halal in the UK. However, it said people had the right to choose.
Its senior panel member and Islamic jurist, Mufti Abdul Rasool Mansor, added objections were based on ideology not fact. “Whilst there are many that would argue slaughtering the animal without stunning is cruel, this is based on their thinking rather than science. There are scientific studies that exist in support for both methods.”
Another panellist said it was important to remember that both religions had clear guidelines to protect the health of animals and minimise pain in slaughter.
A costly import
Sharia Halal Board spokesperson Saraj Murtaza said the ban had affected many Jewish and Muslim people in Poland who had been forced to rely on imported halal and kosher foods, and had incurred greater costs as a result.
It said the halal and kosher industry was worth around €500m in Poland alone, although it is unclear how this total sum is split.
This was said to be a particular issue for Jewish people, since unlike Islam, most Jewish scholars did not deem any product to be Kosher unless it was slaughtered in the traditional method which did not “give room” for stunning.