Michael Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland, insists that the nearly 4,000-year-old tradition of shechita or kosher slaughter "is one of the most sensitive, humane methods of slaughtering an animal -- it's dead within seconds."
WARSAW (AFP-EJP)---Poland's top court Tuesday ruled that the ritual slaughter of animals, a key tenet of the Jewish and Muslim faiths, was illegal, but the government insisted that new EU rules would still allow the practice.
The Constitutional Court's ruling appeared largely symbolic, as it enters into force on January 1, the same day it is over-riden by a European Union directive setting common rules for the production of kosher and halal meat across the 27-nation bloc.
The Polish agriculture ministry, that has provided licenses to 16 slaughterhouses to carry out the ritual, says the practice is sanctioned by the European Union regulations.
"There will be no doubt about this as of January 1," Agriculture Minister Stanislaw Kalemba told Polish public radio.
But animal rights campaigners questioned that, saying the incoming regulations allowed individual EU member states to request an exception.
"It's up to us to decide whether we want a law authorising this kind of slaughter or not," Dariusz Gzyra of the campaign group Empatia told AFP.
Poland enacted legislation to allow ritual slaughter in 2004, the year the country entered the EU.
A 1997 law had banned slaughter without the prior stunning of animals, on humane grounds.
Both Jewish and Muslim clerics insist stunning is inconsistent with the rules of their faiths.
Poland's chief prosecutor Andrzej Seremet turned to the Constitutional Court in June at the behest of animal rights groups.
The issue lacks the same politically tinged feel as in west European countries with large Muslim communities, were some opponents are accused of exploiting animal welfare campaigning for racist reasons.
Jews and Muslims represent a tiny minority of several tens of thousands in this overwhelmingly Catholic nation of 38 million.
But kosher meat in particular has a symbolic pull because Poland was Europe's Jewish heartland until Nazi Germany killed the vast majority of the community during World War II.
Poland is also a leading producer of both kosher and halal meat for export to other European countries.
The country is home to two dozen abattoirs specialised in kosher (shechita) and halal slaughter, with the value of last year's exports estimated at 200 million euros ($259 million).
Around 10,000 Jews live in Poland today.