Goliny, Poland — The slaughterhouse in this small town in western Poland has a special dormitory to house the more than 30 Jewish men designated by Israel’s chief rabbi to oversee the production of kosher beef there.
Since the slaughterhouse received permission to export to Israel five years ago, thousands of bulls were herded inside the building and one of three designated individuals, using a specially chosen knife, severed their trachea, oesophagus and major blood vessels and bled them to death - in the method that is common to kosher and halal butchery.
With beef consumption falling in Europe and many other markets closed to new players or dominated by Brazil and other South American producers, Polish abattoirs saw Israel and Arab countries in the Middle East as the best opportunity for growth.
Poland exports 90 percent of its beef, a third of which was kosher or halal worth some 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion).
But this booming industry has ground to a halt because, after a campaign by animal rights activists who say the method of slaughter is cruel, Poland’s constitutional court banned the practice and this month its parliament rejected an amendment that would have allowed the slaughter to resume.
Parliament’s unexpected decision caused an outcry among Jewish groups around the world, who said banning kosher slaughter was an infringement of religious freedom.
They said anti-Jewish prejudice played a part - a stinging accusation against a country where Nazi Germany killed millions of Jews during World War Two.
But in the Biernacki slaughterhouse in Goliny, 350 km (217 miles) west of the Polish capital Warsaw, the fallout was about the economic cost of banning kosher and halal meat production.
“We still cling to the hope politicians will reconsider,” said Tomasz Kublik, the company’s chief executive. “If nothing changes, we’ll shift production to lower margin meat products and may need to let go of many of our workers.”
The family-owned company, which processed as many as 18,000 heads of cattle each month, became Poland’s top producer of kosher and halal beef, with about half of its production sent to Jewish and Muslim clients abroad.
Poland, the home of a large Jewish community before the Holocaust, enjoys historical connections with Israel that made it easier to win business there.