Meat options may have just expanded for eaters who follow kosher and halal traditions: Islamic and Jewish authorities have ruled that some lab-grown meat is permissible under these religious dietary restrictions.
The recent decisions mark another win for the fledgling cultivated meat industry, which received its first approvals from the United States Department of Agriculture in June. Cultivated, or lab-grown, meat is produced by feeding a nutrient-filled broth to animal cells in stainless steel vats, and it’s designed to look, smell and taste like traditional meat, writes Time’s Aryn Baker.
Currently, most cultivated meat starts with a sample of cells collected from embryos or obtained painlessly from living animals and grown until they can be taken for consumption. This process, which takes a few weeks, could reduce animal suffering and mitigate the climate impact of the livestock industry, per Time. Raising cattle for meat produces anywhere from 11 to almost 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
On Sunday, three Sharia law scholars determined the cultivated products from San Francisco-based start-up GOOD Meat can be considered halal, if they’re prepared with cells that come from an animal slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law. And last week, the Orthodox Union (OU), the largest kosher certification agency, ruled that a different company, the Israel-based SuperMeat, met its standards for kosher preparation.
The approval is a milestone for cultivated foods to reach audiences that would be eager to have more options in restaurants and supermarkets. Halal consumers represent about a quarter of the world’s population, per a statement from GOOD Meat. In the United States alone, more than 12 million people eat kosher products, and roughly 8 million eat halal products.
Right now, the U.S. and Singapore are the only countries that sell cultivated meat, but the industry hopes to expand internationally. Southeast Asia and the Middle East may have a high demand for the lab-grown products, per Madeleine Speed of the Financial Times.
“Our priorities are scaling up the technology, reducing costs and ensuring that it’s open to everyone, including two billion people who simply won’t eat meat unless it’s halal,” Tetrick tells the publication.
The three Saudi Sharia scholars—Sheikh Abdullah AlManea, Abdullah al-Mutlaq and Saad Al-Shathry—said that to be considered halal, cultivated meat must come from cells of animals that Muslims may eat (such as chicken and cow, but not pig), which are slaughtered according to Islamic law. Additionally, nutrients used to grow the cells must not contain forbidden substances like spilled blood or alcohol, and the cultivated meat must be verified as safe for human consumption.
GOOD Meat’s main product, lab-grown chicken, does not currently meet halal standards because it is produced with cells obtained from a chick embryo, but it could be halal if the original cells were taken from a piece of halal meat, the scholars decided.
The OU deemed SuperMeat’s chicken kosher, because the cells it comes from are extracted from eggs rather than from living chickens—and kosher law prevents observant Jews from consuming any part of a living animal. Since the eggs are in an early stage of fertilization, the lab-grown meat does not involve blood, which also aligns with kosher requirements.
Guidelines that could be used as industry standards are currently in the works between the OU and SuperMeat, the company’s CEO, Ido Savir, tells Reuters.
“This week’s ruling provides much-needed insight on what an approval road map might look like, and we expect that start-ups will immediately begin adapting their production processes to satisfy this new guidance,” Mirte Gosker, managing director of alternative protein think tank the Good Food Institute Asia Pacific, says to the Financial Times.
Despite the recent approvals, whether consumers will recognize lab-grown meat as kosher or halal may depend on the religious authorities they follow and their level of observance, writes CNN’s Danielle Wiener-Bronner. Additionally, to reach the widest audience, the industry will likely have to find a way to make its meat more palatable: A 2022 study found that about 55 percent of vegetarians and 35 percent of meat-eaters would be too disgusted to try cultivated meat.
But for those interested consumers, lab-grown meat is already sold at limited locations. China Chilcano in Washington, D.C., serves GOOD Meat’s cultivated chicken as part of a tasting menu, and chicken from Upside Foods, another cultivated meat company, can be found at Bar Crenn in San Francisco.