Will Lab Cultivated Meat break kosher guidelines?

Each time you sit down to eat a meal with meat products, do you ever take a minute to think about what it took to get this food on your plate? Every year, 70 billion land animals are slaughtered for consumption worldwide. While many organizations and law enforcement across the globe work to ensure the slaughter of animals is done without inflicting pain on the animals, it is nearly impossible to ensure that all slaughterhouses are following these rules. In addition, slaughtering animals in general is an inhumane practice and is done for the sole purpose of feeding us. However, the cultivated meat industry and specifically lab meat is taking the world by storm and may be the end of animal slaughter.

What is lab-cultivated meat?

Lab-grown or cultivated meat uses animal cells to grow meat in a lab as an alternative to slaughter. Labs growing cultivated meat take animal cells from a live, healthy animal in a harmless skin sample. This innovative way of producing meat was originally concocted in the early 2000s but was brought to media attention in 2013 when a cultivated meat patty was tried at a conference in London for a lump sum of money. Later Singapore was the first country to begin sales of cultured meat.

picture of test tubes

Israel is one of the leaders in the cultivated meat industry. In 2020, the company SuperMeat opened a restaurant in Tel Aviv called “The Chicken” which offered a cultivated chicken burger to see if their customers noticed the difference. Other Israeli companies developing cultivated meat are Aleph Farms and Believer Meats.

Environmental impact

A carnivore diet takes a major toll on one’s carbon footprint. In fact, meat makes up 60% of greenhouse gas emissions. Beef is the world’s most detrimental food product in carbon emissions due to methane production which makes up 32% of greenhouse gas emissions.

picture of cows

After the livestock has been slaughtered, there are additional greenhouse gases that go into the atmosphere from the transportation of livestock, processing in factories, and then the packaging of the final product. In total, the entire process, from the initial raising of livestock to the final destination of stocking groceries stores is a constant carbon dump.

Deforestation is also a major problem when it comes to livestock farming. Much of the land livestock is raised on has been deforested for the sole purpose of raising more and more cattle. In addition, the constant grazing of livestock diminishes grassland productivity to the point where grass can no longer grow. Eventually, farmers need to revert to unconventional methods of crop irrigation by using polluting fertilizers so livestock can be raised.

And don’t forget about the extensive water use that goes into farming. It takes 1,799 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. This comes from the keeping of land, cleaning, and drinking requirements of the cattle. Especially in the heat of summer and in bad drought conditions, water use can exceed a considerable amount and massively increase the amount of water needed to grow livestock.

Is lab meat kosher?

There has been much speculation on the increasing popularity of cultivated meat in Israel. Especially for religious Jews and Rabbis who keep kosher, many are questioning the reliability of the industry.

For meat to be kosher, the animal must be in good health, killed a certain way, drained of its blood, and salted. In addition, only certain parts of an animal can be consumed. All these parts of keeping kosher in relation to meat make the discussion of cultivated meat more complicated.

However, back in January of this year, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi David Lau declared that the steak made from Aleph Farms is kosher, marking a monumental decision in the cultivated meat industry. He claimed that because the meat was grown instead of slaughtered, the meat is not actually meat, and can be thought of like a vegetable. Because the meat does not contain milk nor dairy and no blood from an animal, Rabbi David Lau declared it to be parve. Dozens of other rabbis from the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization have also called cultivated meat kosher.

While Rabbi Lau’s ruling is particularly for the meat produced in Aleph Farms, it is still unsure if all cultivated meat can be considered kosher as there needs to be a careful inspection at all cultivated meat companies and they need to be certified to be kosher. In addition, many may argue that it is not kosher as cultivated meat has animal origins as it is derived from animal cells.

Rabbi Genack from the Orthodox Union Kosher Division has questioned the reliability of cultivated meat being kosher as he has said that even microscopic specimens of cells derived from a living animal would not be considered kosher. In order for the meat to be kosher, the cells need to be taken from a kosher slaughtered animal.

Another aspect of the cultivated meat industry is the question of how Orthodox Jews can keep their legitimacy when choosing meals to ensure they don’t sin on Jewish law. Rabbi Yonathan Neril from The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development is an environmental advocate for cultivated meat.

While he believes that in itself lab-grown meat is kosher, it should not be mixed with dairy. According to Neril who tells Green Prophet: “If Jews start eating lab-grown meat with cow’s cheese, then they might come to mistakenly eat cow’s meat with cow’s cheese, which would be a violation of Jewish law.”

Neril insists that Jews mixing cultivated meat with normally derived cheese can fray on the principle of marit ayin, which is when the action of an observant Jew may seem unkosher when in actuality it is.

This term is coined by the judgment of others’ skepticism; the Jew is technically adhering to the law. However, Rabbi Neril added, “If lab-grown meat and lab-grown cheese replace animal meat and animal cheese in mainstream consumption, then it could be that over time, it would no longer be a problem in Jewish law to eat the lab-grown meat and lab-grown cheese together.”

Earth or Tradition?

Unfortunately what this means for the kosher community is one’s own personal opinion. With the current emergencies that face our climate, it is important to consider the environmental benefits of choosing cultivated meat. The environmental advantage of cultivated meat is enormous and can massively decrease global greenhouse gases. In addition, kosher law requires slaughter, which is devastating in itself.

The final decision is still in the hands of Jews, which reflects the ideals of modernity. Is it time we update the traditional laws of Judaism and put what’s facing us in the climate first in line? Are Orthodox Jews willing to sacrifice what’s traditional for the sake of our planet?

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