In 1892, the Swiss Animal Protection Association launched a popular initiative against shechita. Although the Federal Council and the Federal Assembly moved to reject this initiative, it was accepted on 20th August 1893.
The Federal Constitution was then amended as follows by Article 25bis: ‘The slaughter of animals without prior stunning before the withdrawal of blood is prohibited without exception for every type of slaughter and every species of animal.’
The ban on shechita came into force at the beginning of 1894 and today is generally understood to have been an anti-Semitic act. The consequence is that since that time all kosher meat has had to be imported into Switzerland.
Founded in 1904, the SIG and individual Jewish communities subsequently made several attempts to obtain permission to perform shechita on the grounds that the prohibition on shechita breached the freedom of belief and conscience of Jews. With one exception, these attempts have sadly been in vain. The only exception was in March 1918 during the First World War when, since it was not possible to import kosher meat, the Federal Council granted a limited licence to slaughter without stunning. Although it continued to be difficult to import kosher meat in the post-war period, the special provision was rescinded on 15th April 1920.
Removal from the Federal Constitution
During the 1950’s, when the rescission of the special religious articles in the Federal Constitution (concerning Jesuits and monasteries) was under discussion, rescinding the prohibition on shechita was debated once more. As a result, it was indeed removed from the constitution, only to be adopted without any alteration in scope into the Animal Protection Act of 1978. Additionally, this act empowered the Federal Council to make the slaughter of birds subject to compulsory stunning as well, although it did not in fact exercise this power.
As part of an amendment process for the Animal Protection Act in 2001, the Federal Council wanted to relax the prohibition on shechita on the grounds of religious freedom. However, this proposal met with stiff opposition in the discussion process, with the result that it had eventually to be withdrawn. In this connection however, the SIG was able to ensure that the import of kosher meat for the supply of the Jewish religious community was adopted in 2003 into the current Animal Protection Act.
Failed attempts to tighten up the prohibition on ritual slaughter
In order to counter any potential relaxation of the prohibition on shechita, both the Swiss Animal Protection [STS] and also the Association against Animal Factories [VgT] launched popular initiatives in 2002 with the objective of prohibiting the ritual slaughter of poultry and the import of kosher meat. While the initiative of the VgT collapsed at the signature gathering stage, the STS initiative was withdrawn after parliamentary consultations in favour of the new Animal Protection Act. This act and the Animal Protection Regulation, which maintained the prohibition on shechita of their predecessors, came into force on 1st September 2008. The sole exception to the general provision requiring prior stunning remains the ritual slaughter of poultry.