What do rabbis and imams have to say about lab-grown meat? – Morning Brew

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· 4 min read
Lab-grown meat has begun getting the green light from regulators and is making its way onto restaurant menus. Still, not everybody is ready to dig in for reasons ranging from “It tastes funny” to general uneasiness, cost, and faith-based objections.
That last concern was recently addressed (at least in part) by two groups of religious leaders who weighed in on cultivated chicken.
Getting the nod from religious authorities could help cultivated protein become a staple in the diet of millions of believers worldwide. But the path to acceptance isn’t guaranteed since theological opinions on food vary even with dishes that aren’t on the technological bleeding edge.
Lab-grown meat producers claim they’re on a capital-“M” mission: Fight climate change by providing carnivores with meat that does not directly come from a slaughtered animal.
And convincing observant communities that lab-grown meat is compatible with their faith is not just a matter of social progress—it’s also a business opportunity. Estimates of annual global sales of halal food range from $775 billion to $2.2 trillion, while kosher food is a $41 billion market.
Good Meat CEO Josh Tetrick told Morning Brew the company reached out to Shariah scholars because “2 billion Muslims around the world won’t eat meat unless it’s halal.” Growing meat artificially is a capital-intensive process that requires massive bioreactors, and the company wants Muslim-majority countries across the Middle East and North Africa to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in the infrastructure, Tetrick said.
For lab-grown meat companies to compete with halal and kosher butchers, they must harvest animal cells to create products that adhere to religious rules.
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Processes that involve harvesting cells from a live animal are a problem for many observant Jews and Muslims, as rabbinical and Shariah rules forbid eating meat obtained from living animals. So, for the meat to be compliant, the cells must come from an animal that was slaughtered following halal and kosher rules.
There are also potential workarounds. With poultry, there’s the “option of taking the stem cells from an egg without touching the bird at all,” Orthodox Kosher Union CEO Rabbi Menachem Genack told Morning Brew. That’s the method used by SuperMeat, which got the kosher seal of approval from his organization.
After the cells are obtained, the subsequent meat culturing process requires placing the cells into a steel vat filled with a “nutrient-rich broth,” according to Scientific American, which must also fall in line with religious rules. The ingredients and equipment used to turn the cell mass into a chunk of meat must be halal, head of the Cornell Kosher and Halal Food Initiative Joe Regenstein told Morning Brew. Similarly, they’d have to adhere to Jewish law for the resulting meat to be considered kosher, according to Rabbi Genack.
Just as they do with regular meat, different branches of the same religion might not agree on what constitutes proper lab-grown meat cultivation, Regenstein noted.
For example, Sunni Muslims in places like Saudi Arabia and Iran-based Shiite Muslims may have different standards for what they view as a truly halal slaughtering process.
Not all strictly observant Hasidic Jews will automatically accept the Orthodox Kosher Union’s determination that a lab-grown meat product is kosher. They instead require their own representatives to evaluate.
Lab-grown meat companies could court Hindus, too. Many Hindus and Jainists in India practice vegetarianism, as it’s consistent with the principle of nonviolence toward all living beings. If they come to view meat that didn’t come directly from a slaughtered animal as palatable, it could boost the products’ appeal in the world’s most populous country.—SK
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