Analysis: will the ruling party lose its rural base?

By Chris Mularczyk

Jan Krzysztof Ardanowski, in an interview for daily “Rzeczpospolita” warns his party that the animal protection legislation it is forcing through parliament could prove its undoing in rural areas.

Ruling party wants draft animal protection bill unchanged by Senate

The senators of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party were recommended not to amend the draft of the bill about the animal protection, Radosław...

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Law and Justice (PiS) have for the past five years been dominant in rural areas, polling more than 50 percent of the popular vote in the countryside. Support for them among farmers is even higher.

The ruling party, after its latest election victory in the presidential election, has decided to force through legislation on animal protection that is to ban fur farming and stop the production of meat derived from ritual slaughter for export. Farmers are up in arms about the legislation arguing that it does not institute a sufficiently long grace period for production to be wound down. They also argue that Poland is giving up markets by default.

But Jarosław Kaczyński, the PiS leader, is determined for the legislation to be put on the statute book. The bill has already cleared the lower house and is now being considered by the second chamber, the Senate.

The bill is supported by the Left and Civic Platform (PO) parliamentarians and opposed by the radical right “Confederation” and the Polish People’s Party (PSL). However, nearly 40 PiS MPs voted against the legislation in the Lower House and several others have abstained. President Andrzej Duda, who will have to decide whether to sign the bill or to veto it, has expressed unhappiness about the fact that the bill does not sufficiently take into account the interests of farmers.

Rebel Ardanowski

One of the MPs who voted against in the Lower House was the outgoing agriculture minister Jan Krzysztof Ardanowski. He was tipped to be replaced in the reshuffle and chose to make this an issue on which he would take a stand. He has consistently opposed the closure of fur farms and any bans on ritual slaughter.

In an interview with daily “Rzeczpospolita” published on Wednesday Mr Ardanowski, who is a PiS MP despite being suspended from party membership for voting against the animal protection bill, warns his party that it may lose the rural vote for which it has worked so hard over the years.

The morality of the business

The former agriculture minister dismisses the assertion made by the leader of his party that all good people must support the animal protection bill. He responds by saying that “only God may decide who is a good person” and that the bill is based on a “false axiology” and false understanding of morality. He was surprised that PiS would impose party discipline on what is essentially a matter of conscience, as it has not done so over issues such as abortion.

Mr Ardanowski argues that man uses animals for various ends and all that can be done is to ensure animal welfare in that process. He believes that in environmental terms real fur is less damaging than synthetics and that if people decide not to buy fur than fur farming would die a natural death. Only Poland’s competitors on the market and countries outside of the EU will be happy to see Poland give up its share of the market.

He also argues that the price of meat will rise as the remains from fur farms will no longer be available to be used in livestock farming. Mr Ardanowski fears that the government will face a spate of litigation from farmers for compensation for their businesses which will have to close.

The former agriculture minister is even more concerned about the ban on export of meat derived from ritual slaughter. He argues that it is coming at a time when the EU market will be flooded by meat from South America as a result of a EU trade deal with that part of the world. This means that replacing markets from Hallal and Kosher meat with European markets will be very hard to achieve.

Staunch opposition to the legislation

Mr Ardanowski says he will continue to oppose the legislation, also on the grounds that it gives civil society organisations the right to expect farms. He believes that this is a violation of civil rights. The former agriculture minister hopes that the bill will be amended in the Senate so that President Andrzej Duda does not have to veto it. But he acknowledges that the votes may be there in the Lower House to overturn any presidential veto (60 percent of MPs).

He argues that it is a huge political mistake for PiS to confront voters in rural areas that backed the party and that it is naive to expect that younger urban voters will back the party in future elections. He does not want to leave PiS and join the “Confederation” party, but realises that it may not be his decision whether he can stay inside PiS.

The former agriculture minister categorically denies that he is in any way dividing PiS. The animal protection legislation was not part of the party’s election manifesto. He is not surprised that farmers are angry and expects protests against the legislation to grow.

Sour grapes and exaggeration?

Some will argue that the former minister is merely gesturing and protesting against the fact that he was going to be removed from the government. His critics in PiS point to the fact that the ministry was not coping well with EU funds and issues and that a change at the ministry was long overdue.

To make matters worse for Mr Ardanowski and the farmers who oppose the animal protection legislation the new agriculture minister Grzegorz Puda was the MP responsible for piloting the animal protection legislation through the Lower House. Mr Puda, unlike Mr Ardanowski, has no farming background, he is a zootechnician by education.

It is true that livestock farmers and fur farmers are strongly opposed to the animal protection legislation. But it is not at all clear that PiS will lose votes in rural areas as a result. If that was to be the case one would have expected PiS poll ratings to be falling. They are not.

It is not true that all rural voters back the farmers. Certainly not fur farmers in areas where fur farms often cause environmental problems with odour and pollution. And the scale of the ritual slaughter business is in dispute. Muslim states are increasingly importing Hallal meat which is derived from a process that includes the stunning of the slaughtered animal. The Kosher meat market is far smaller in comparison.

In any case ritual slaughter as such is not being outlawed. According to the Polish constitutional court since the process of ritual slaughter is an intrinsic part of practicing the Muslim and Judaic religions and the Polish constitution protects the right of religious practice there can be no ban on ritual slaughter. The drafters of the legislation admitted as much by making it legal for ritual slaughter meat to be produced for local consumption by Jewish and Muslim minorities in Poland.

It will be interesting to see how any ban on production of Hallal and Kosher meat for export will be enforced. The meat must be available on the EU’s single market and since there is no ban on the export of ritual slaughter meat in many other EU states a way around the export ban for Polish producers may be available, although obviously at a cost.

Mr Kaczyński and his party have picked the timing of introducing this legislation very carefully. Three years before the party has to face the electorate. Plenty of time for those rural voters affected to forget about the matter. If a week is a long time in politics, three years is an eternity.