WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's constitutional court on Wednesday overturned a ban on the ritual slaughter of animals which had affected the Jewish and Muslim communities.
The court argued that the constitution guarantees the freedom of religious practice. It is a victory for Poland's small Jewish and Muslim communities and for the agricultural industry, which in the past profited from the production of meat for export to Jewish and Muslim communities.
Ritual slaughter, which involves the killing of livestock without stunning them first to reduce their pain, has been illegal since Jan. 1, 2013, due to a ban imposed after a campaign by animal rights activists.
Wednesday's ruling came in reaction to a complaint lodged by Poland's Jewish community, which argued that the ban violated guarantees of religious freedom enshrined in Poland's constitution and the European Convention of Human Rights.
Jewish groups in and outside of Poland welcomed the decision.
Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, said the decision "marks a major victory for the Polish Jewish community," which he said was also hurt by a failure of Poland's parliament last year to adopt a law to keep kosher and halal slaughter legal.
"This also sends a clear signal: Jews, Jewish life and Jewish traditions are welcome in Poland," Lauder said in a statement.
Until 2013, Polish farmers were doing a good business, making about 500 million euros ($620 million) per year exporting kosher and halal meat to Israel and Muslim countries such as Egypt and Iran. But the business practically ground out after ritual slaughter was banned.
In both religions the slaughter method involves a swift cut to the throat of a conscious animal and death by bleeding. Animal rights activists say it causes unnecessary suffering. But religious leaders insist efforts are taken to minimize suffering and that the animals are killed so fast they do not suffer for long.