Proposed law may be more about Catholic nationalist politics, anti-Semitism, and COVID-19 than about concern for animals
WARSAW, Poland––Is a new omnibus animal protection law recently proposed in Poland really all about animals, driven in part by concern that mink farming may be a reservoir for the pandemic COVID-19 coronavirus?
Or is the proposed law a vehicle for thinly disguised anti-Semitism?
Or does the new proposed law perhaps incorporate both animal advocacy and anti-Semitism in a bizarre stew concocted by Jarosław Kaczyński, president of the governing Law & Justice Party, to attract liberal secular support while splitting conservative Roman Catholic opposition?
Party split killed 2017 attempt
Of note is that the Law & Justice Party itself is the leading Party representing Roman Catholic conservatism, but failed to pass a similar bill in 2017 due to a split within the party.
The proposed new Polish legislation, personally introduced by Jarosław Kaczyński on September 8, 2020, “would ban fur farming with the exception of rabbits, and all use of animals for entertainment, including their use in circuses,” reported The First News, the online English voice of the Polish Press Agency.
“Also foreseen,” The First News said, “is stricter control of animal shelters and the establishment of a council for animal affairs under the agriculture minister.”
But Ben Cohen of The Algemeiner, self-described as “an independent media voice covering the Middle East, Israel, and matters of Jewish interest around the world,” published from New York City, saw a different emphasis.
“Part of a broader package devoted to animal rights”
“Kaczyński,” wrote Cohen, “told a press conference in Warsaw that the government planned to introduce legislation that would effectively close down Polish exports of kosher meat. The rights of the Jewish and Muslim communities in Poland to obtain kosher or halal meat for their own consumption would not be affected.
“The proposal was part of a broader package devoted to animal rights,” Cohen wrote, “a cause that Poland’s right-wing nationalist government has embraced fervently. Other measures would include a ban on breeding animals for fur, empowering the police to rescue abused animals, and granting greater powers to veterinary inspectors to issue fines to offenders.”
To what extent the Law & Justice Party has actually embraced “animal rights” is open to question, including from animal rights activists and organizations.
Law & Justice “wants to cure our country of vegetarians”
On the one hand, Jarosław Kaczyński is known to be personally fond of cats, appeared in a 2017 anti-fur video made by the activist group Viva!, and has twice before pushed legislation to ban fur farming and kosher slaughter. A Law & Justice Party bill prohibiting kosher slaughter passed in 2013, but was overturned by the Polish Constitutional Court for infringing on religious freedom.
On the other hand, former Law & Justice Party foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski, now representing Poland in the European Parliament, in 2016 told the German tabloid Bild that the Law & Justice Party “only wants to cure our country of a few illnesses,” specifically “a new mixture of cultures and races, a world made up of cyclists and vegetarians, who only use renewable energy and who battle all signs of religion.”
Between them, the fur farming ban and the ban on exporting kosher or halal meat, meaning from animals ritually slaughtered without pre-stunning, would all but exclude Polish Jews from animal agriculture.
Jews returning to visibility
Terminated would the two sectors of animal agriculture within which Jews have historically prospered. Polish agribusiness would otherwise be untouched.
The proposed ban on fur farming and the ban on exporting kosher or halal meat comes, moreover, from a far-right Roman Catholic nationalist government, just as the Jewish population of Poland has recovered to cultural visibility after more than eighty years of repression.
“In 1939, Poland was home to 3.5 million Jews, Europe’s largest Jewish population,” recounted Time magazine correspondent Yardena Schwartz from Krakow, the second largest city in Poland, on February 27, 2019. “On the eve of the Holocaust, 10% of Poles were Jewish.
“Being the capital of European Jewry made Poland the prime target for Nazi brutalities,” Schwartz continued.
Kosher slaughter ban introduced the Holocaust
Arriving with the Nazi invasion of Poland was prohibition of kosher slaughter, among several other anti-Jewish measures introduced by the Nazis in disguise as animal protection laws, including a law against Jews keeping pets.
“Adolf Hitler’s regime built its deadliest concentration camps here,” Schwartz remembered, “and more Jews were murdered in Poland than anywhere else by far,” approximately three million of the estimated six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
“Just 10% of Poland’s Jewish population survived,” Schwartz wrote, only to suffer continued repression under the Communist regime that followed the Nazis.
“In 1968 more than 15,000 Jews—half of Poland’s Jewish population [remaining at that time]—were stripped of citizenship and forced to leave,” Schwartz continued.
Other sources put the 1968 forced exodus at 20,000 Jews.
Kaczyński brothers led opposition to anti-Semitism
This, though, is where the matter becomes complicated.
Six years younger than Catholic labor leader Lech Walesa, a political liberal who led the first post-Communist government of Poland, twin brothers Lech and Jarosław Kaczyński were not only early Walesa supporters, but also leaders in opposition to the official anti-Semitism of the Communist era.
The Kaczyński brothers, though devout Catholics themselves, and arch-conservatives, helped to encourage a Jewish cultural renaissance, including rebuilding synagogues and cemeteries to encourage Jews to return to Poland after decades in exile abroad.
“High-ranking members of the Jewish community estimate there are now 30,000 Jews among Poland’s 38 million citizens, up from 10,000 in 2007,” Schwartz told Time readers.
Sought partners in rewriting history
In exchange for politically defending Jews, the Kaczyński brothers asked Polish Jews to defend the Polish national reputation against well-founded allegations that substantial elements among the Polish Catholic population were complicit with the Nazis in orchestrating the Holocaust, and with the subsequent repression of Jews under Communism.
Lech Kaczyński died in a 2010 airline crash. Jarosław Kaczyński, called “the puppet master of Poland’s far right” by Orlando Crowcroft of EuroNews, in 2018 pushed to passage a law which “criminalizes blaming Poles for any wrongdoing against other nations,” summarized Slawomir Sierakowski for the online magazine Political Critique.
“But the move only serves to highlight the fact that some Poles were complicit in crimes against Jews,” Sierakowski observed.
“Not an anti-Semite, but…”
“Kaczyński, like his deceased twin brother, Lech, is not an anti-Semite,” Sierakowski emphasized. “As president (2005-2010), Lech Kaczynski was an enemy of anti-Semitism in Poland and celebrated Hanukkah in a synagogue. In fact, until now, Poland’s government was probably the most pro-Israel in Europe,” Sierakowski wrote, “reflected in its abstention from a United Nations General Assembly vote to condemn U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”
Still, Sierakowski noted, “the new law was promulgated on the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and just before the 50th anniversary of the Polish communist government’s anti-Semitic campaign of 1968.”
Jarosław Kaczyński in May 2019 came under criticism from the Association of Jewish Religious Communities for opposing a U.S. law endorsed by the Trump administration that calls upon the Polish government to pay compensation to surviving Holocaust victims or their heirs for losses of property seized by the Nazis.
National Memorial Park
The matter is complicated because the Communist government that followed the Nazis seized most land and buildings in Poland, essential making almost everyone a victim of state confiscation.
Beyond that, Jarosław Kaczyński argued that it was the Nazis, not Poles, who orchestrated the Holocaust, and that those Jews who survived were saved by Poles.
Jarosław Kaczyński in August 2020 dedicated a new National Memorial Park in Toruń, Poland, commemorating 18,500 Poles who died helping to rescue Jews from the Holocaust. Another 22,000 names are to be added to the memorial plaques during the next several years.
The Toruń memorial park builds the image that Jarosław Kaczyński would like Poland to have as a nation that stood against the Nazis, rather than the mixed reality that some Poles fought the Nazis, while others collaborated with them.
The same mixed reality was also true of the Polish relationship with the Russian Communists, whose 1945 invasion brought both liberation from the Nazis and another 45 years of harsh dictatorship: some resisted, and some collaborated, while those Jews who had escaped the Nazis were mostly forced into flight.
Closure of kosher exports “sounded the alarm”
Wrote Ben Cohen of The Algemeiner, “The prospect of an abrupt closure of a kosher meat export market worth $1.5 billion annually to the Polish economy sounded the alarm for several agriculture sector organizations.
Said a joint statement from five organizations representing the Polish poultry industry, “One in five poultry animals slaughtered in Poland is slaughtered according to the halal or kosher system, which also accounts for 40% of Polish poultry meat exports.
“Following the introduction of the ban,” the Polish poultry industry statement predicted, “the Polish poultry industry, which is the main exporter in the European Union, may collapse overnight.”
Said the Polish Beef Sector Council, “Limiting religious slaughter will in no way improve the fate of animals. What is more, it will worsen it, because animals who cannot be slaughtered in Poland will have to travel hundreds of kilometers in order to be killed outside the country.”
Kosher/halal ban may be more about Muslims than Jews
Polish pig producers, whose output has declined by half since peaking nearly 30 years ago, ripped the Law & Justice government for allegedly becoming distracted by kosher and halal slaughter while “doing little to combat continuing outbreaks of African swine fever since 2019,” Cohen recounted.
Meanwhile, the actual Law & Justice Party motive for the ban on export of kosher and halal meats may have more to do with a manufactured fear of Islamic immigration than with any feelings about Judaism. Though the Islamic population of Poland is practically invisible, published estimates suggest that the number of resident Muslims has risen over about 15 years from fewer than 10,000 to more than 80,000.
The Law & Justice Party has whipped up fear of Islamic immigration in support of their nationalist agenda. Prohibiting the export of halal meat is a convenient way to prevent the arrival of Muslims to work in the halal slaughter trade.
Fur farming ban may be just seizing opportunity
Comparably, prohibiting fur farming may have much less to do with anti-Semitism than with Jarosław Kaczyński simply seizing an opportunity to abolish an industry he has tried to ban before, which is already banned in 15 other European Union nations.
Jarosław Kaczyński introduced his animal protection bill, including the proposed abolition of fur farming, only hours after the Polish animal advocacy organization Open Cages (Otwarte Klatki)
Shocked the nation with a new documentary, The Bloody Fur Business, built around video collected by a Ukranian man who worked undercover at a fur farm owned by brothers Wojciech and Szczepan Wójcik––who are, like 98% of Poles, Roman Catholic.
The Polish mink and fox farming industry was already weakened by crashing fur sales worldwide.
Fur sales income falls by more than half
“In January and February 2020 as many as 40 fur farms disappeared from the map in Poland, mink pelt prices were among the lowest in history, and two mink pelt auctions were canceled,” wrote Open Cages director of investigations Bogna Wiltowska in April 2020.
“In the past four years, 192 fur farms — nearly one third of the total number — have been closed,” Wiltowska said.
Polish mink exports have fallen since 2015 from 9,322,781 pelts sold for an average of $38.00 each, to 6,641,202 pelts sold for an average of $23 each in 2019, Wiltowska recited.
“As a result,” Wiltowska calculated, “breeders earned only 43% of what they earned four years earlier. According to information provided by FurEurope, an association of fur farmers, there are expected to be around 5.5 million animals bred for fur in Poland this year,” Wiltowska continued, barely half as many as were bred in 2015, with international auction demand expected to fall by another 30% or more.
“73% of Polish people favor ban on fur farming”
“Until now,” Wiltowska charged, “draft amendments to the Polish Animal Protection Act [to ban fur farming] have been blocked by the fur lobby, which is supported by Tadeusz Rydzyk, a controversial conservative priest and influential media personality who runs the ultra-Catholic radio station Radio Maryja. But the results of recent opinion polls are clear: 73% of Polish people are in favor of introducing a ban on animal breeding for fur in the country, and almost 500,000 citizens have signed a petition calling on the government to do so.”
The overall impact of banning fur farming on the Polish economy would be minimal, suggested Bne IntelliNews, an online business news portal covering eastern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. While Poland is among the top four fur-producing nations, Bne IntelliNews said, the Polish fur industry “employs just 4,000 people and creates below 0.1% of Poland’s gross domestic product, according to 2018 data.”
COVID-19 may push fur farming ban to passage
The increasingly strong association of mink farming with outbreaks of the COVID-19 coronavirus may give the Law & Justice Party legislation the push it needs to overcome opposition from Tadeusz Rydzyk and Radio Maryja, who have historically represented the same far-right Catholic constituency.
One of the recent studies making the strongest link between COVID-19 and mink farming was introduced to Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases [ProMED] readers on September 1, 2020 by Herve Bercovier, professor emeritus of microbiology on the medical faculty at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel.
Entitled “Jumping back and forth: anthropozoonotic and zoonotic transmission of SARS-CoV-2 on mink farms,” the investigation, by four Dutch researchers, focused on “outbreaks on 16 mink farms and humans living or working on these farms, using whole-genome sequencing.”
“Initially from humans & has evolved”
The authors concluded that “The virus was initially introduced from humans and has evolved, most likely reflecting widespread circulation among mink in the beginning of the infection period several weeks prior to detection. At the moment,’ they wrote, “despite enhanced biosecurity, early warning surveillance, and immediate culling of infected farms, there is ongoing transmission between mink farms with three big transmission clusters,” having “unknown modes of transmission,” and including the first known “animal-to-human transmissions of SARS-CoV-2 in mink farms.”
Since then, wrote Bercovier, “28 additional [mink] farms have been found infected,” leading to “the recent Dutch government decision not to allow the restart of infected mink farms after culling.”
Fur farming in the Netherlands was already to end by 2024.
Two million mink culled
“As a result of the outbreak, an estimated two million mink, most of them pups, have been gassed to death,” ProMED summarized. “Mink on the nation’s 120 remaining fur farms will not be preventatively culled unless new outbreaks occur, and mink on unaffected farms will be slaughtered for their pelts in November this year. Breeders are not permitted to restock. By March 2021 all remaining mink operations will be bought out by the government.
“The Netherlands is the world’s fourth largest producer of mink fur,” ProMED noted, “behind only Denmark, Poland, and China.”
Denmark, Spain, and the U.S. have also had multiple COVID-19 outbreaks on mink farms. According to a Danish Ministry of the Environment & Food media release, the Danish Veterinary & Food administration conducted tests on 925 mink farms after COVID-19 turned up on one mink farm in North Jutland in June 2020, without finding further cases, but then found three more cases among the remaining 275 mink farms in the nation.
“Mink may be the missing link” between bats & humans
More than 90,000 mink and seven workers tested positive for COVID-19 in May 2020 at the only fur farm in Tereul, Aragon, Spain. The other Spanish mink forms are in Galicia, more than 300 miles to the northwest.
COVID-19 first appeared in the U.S. on August 6, 2020, simultaneously afflicting several Utah mink farms. The Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory and USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory confirmed the outbreak on August 14, 2020, reported Eli Cahan for Science.
An undisclosed number of workers at the Utah fur farms were also infected.
Wrote Cahan, “There are at least 245 mink farms in 22 states, according to Fur Commission USA, the nation’s largest association of mink farmers,” currently producing about 2.5 million pelts per year.
Speculated Christian Griot, director of the Institute for Virology and Immunology in Mittelhäusern, Switzerland, in a note posted by ProMED, “To me the spread is puzzling, and I am not sure if it is ‘just the worker’ on a farm who infects the animals. In Spain, 80% of the animals were found to be positive. This tells me that the virus is highly adapted to mink and might be the missing link between bats and humans.”