Message for the Polish Government

July 21, 2013 by J-Wire Staff
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The president of  the The Executive Council of Australian Jewry Dr Danny Lamm, has sent a message to the Polish Government following its rejection of legislating in favour of shechita.

The following is the text of the letter sent to Poland’s ambassador to Australia Pawel Milewski:

Dr Danny Lamm

Dr Danny Lamm

It was with considerable dismay that I learned that on July 12, by a vote of 222-178, the lower house of Poland’s parliament rejected a government- sponsored draft law that would have legalised shechita (Jewish ritual slaughter of animals for consumption) in Poland. I note that until earlier this year Poland had allowed shechita, but in January, acting on a petition filed by animal rights groups, a constitutional court ruled that the country has no right to allow religious slaughter.

The outlawing of shechita flies in the face of Poland’s much heralded recent attempts to revive its Jewish life and culture. The ban will make it difficult, if not impossible, for most observant Jews who currently live in Poland to continue to do so. I note further that Poland’s Chief Rabbi, Michael Schudrich, has foreshadowed that he may be forced to cease to serve in that capacity if the existing rights of the Jewish community are curtailed, as he would not be able then to serve the community according to Jewish religious law.

This turn of events is causing great distress to Jews everywhere, especially among the many Holocaust survivors of Polish birth and their descendants who live in Australia. I do hope that there are ways found to overcome this change in Polish law, so that the Polish Jewish community can continue to enjoy the same rights and freedoms it has enjoyed until now to prepare meat for consumption in accordance with Jewish religious law.

Among non-Jews the subject of shechita is too often befuddled by ignorance and prejudice. The perception that shechita is a cruel method of animal slaughter is entirely false. A cardinal principle of kosher slaughter is specifically to protect the animal’s welfare and prevent suffering. This is why the rules of kosher slaughter of livestock require that the animal be sound and healthy in every way, and not subject to injury, cruelty or impairment of any kind (as can occur with pre-slaughter stunning) until the moment its neck is cut.

Over hundreds of years, methods have developed to keep animal suffering to an absolute minimum during kosher slaughter. The slaughterman must be well-trained and highly skilled specifically to avoid mistakes that may cause suffering. The knife used must be long and span the neck of the animal. It must be honed to razor sharpness before each separate use to ensure a quick, clean, single cut and rapid loss of consciousness by the animal before the onset of pain. The knife is carefully checked by a supervisor before each kill to ensure there are no signs of imperfection. As with non-kosher slaughter, the animal dies from lack of oxygen. It does not bleed to death.

It is wrong to suggest that if the animal is not stunned before its neck is cut it suffers unnecessary pain. In kosher slaughter in Australia, cattle are stunned immediately after the throat is cut and before the onset of pain. Sheep are much smaller and, correctly slaughtered by
the kosher method, become unconscious between two and eight seconds after the neck is cut, well before the onset of pain.

Certain studies have made the allegation that loss of consciousness can take up to 20 seconds to occur in sheep, but these were studies of generic ‘‘slaughter without stunning”, not kosher slaughter. These studies, such as one carried out by New Zealand’s Massey University, not only did not attempt to duplicate the safeguards provided under kosher slaughter, including the knife’s size, sharpness and smoothness, and the training and skill of the slaughterman, but were subsequently criticised by independent experts for extrapolating conclusions about calves to sheep and even poultry, despite fundamental physiological distinctions.

Professor Temple Grandin of Colorado State University is arguably the world’s foremost authority on the humane treatment of livestock. She conducted studies on kosher slaughter, and critiqued the Massey study in the April 2010 edition of Meat and Poultry magazine (copy attached). She stated: ‘‘I have observed that cattle held in an upright restraint device had almost no reaction to correctly done kosher slaughter that was performed with a special long knife. The cut with the special knife appeared to not cause pain.’’ Elsewhere she notes that ‘‘it appears the animal is not aware that its throat has been cut’’ in kosher slaughter.

Dr Flemming Bager, head of the Danish Veterinary Laboratory, conducted similar experiments in 1992, which likewise indicated that the animals felt no pain and, indeed, did not even pull away as their throat was cut, even when they had no body restraints.
Dr Stuart Rosen of Imperial College London noted in his paper titled ‘‘Physiological Insights into Shechita’’, published in The Veterinary Record (June 12, 2004): ‘‘Shechita [Kosher slaughter] is a painless and humane method of animal slaughter”. A copy of the entire paper is attached.

By contrast, it is not clear that stunning is always effective in preventing suffering. Captive bolt stunning (the most common form of stunning used in Australia) involves delivering a heavy blow to the animal’s head before its throat is cut. Ordinarily, the animal should be rendered unconscious instantly but sometimes the stunning is botched and the animal undergoes unnecessary suffering. Jewish law does not permit pre-stunning because of the requirement that the animal must not be injured or mistreated in any way before it is slaughtered.

Ultimately, any marginal differences that might be found between the results of kosher and non- kosher slaughter cannot justify the abrogation of the rights and religious freedoms hitherto enjoyed by the Jewish community in Poland. Kindly note that a ban on shechita in New Zealand in 2010, similar to the recent ban in Poland, was defeated when the Jewish community in New Zealand took the government to court under the country’s human rights charter. We assisted the New Zealand community with the preparation of evidence for that case. I sincerely hope that it will not be necessary to take similar steps against the Polish government in the European Human Rights Court in order to overturn the ban, especially as Poland’s Prime Minister has opposed the ban.

I would be obliged if you would draw the feelings and concerns of the Australian Jewish community on this subject to the attention of the government of Poland.

Lamm has sent a copy of the letter to Jean Dunn, Australia’s ambassador to Poland, in which he writes: “I would be most grateful if you would raise our concerns about Poland’s legal ban on religious slaughter of animals with the Polish government. The ban is causing distress to Jewish communities around the world, including in Australia whose citizens include several thousand Holocaust survivors of Polish birth and their descendants. As you will see, we do not consider there to be proper justification for the abrogation of the rights and religious freedoms hitherto enjoyed by the Jewish community in Poland.

A meeting of the Primary Industries Ministerial Council declined to ban religious slaughter in Australia when the matter last came before the Council at its meeting in Melbourne on 28 October 2011. Religious slaughter within an agreed risk management framework remains lawful in Australia. I would be grateful if these facts could also be conveyed to the Polish government.”



One Response to “Message for the Polish Government”
  1. Katrina says:

    As it should be.

    Human religion/rites/myths and cultural requirement should NEVER come before the consideration of non-human animals and the most humane death possible.

    There is absolutely no place in the 21st century for ANY type of animal slaughter that could possibly inflict any more pain, fear or trauma than they already suffer purely through the act of taking their life – the life that they do not want to give.

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