letter of the law

Can Lab-Made Meat Be Considered Kosher or Halal?

Religious authorities are vexed by the new products. Photo: Reuters/David Parry/Pool

Now that secular stomachs churn less at the idea of in vitro steak, the clean-meat industry wants a tougher challenge: Can the Jewish and Muslim communities be convinced that cells grown in a bioreactor by people with lab coats adhere to their dietary laws? Grappling with how to make believers of kosher- and halal-certification agencies was only a matter of time, of course, but Quartz reports that the industry’s rapid growth has finally “sparked novel conversations” about how to potentially certify the products.

There’s obviously nothing “natural” about petri-dish meat, and that raises unconventional questions for imams and rabbis. The industry, of course, would love a passing grade, because the kosher and halal markets are collectively worth trillions of dollars per year. But for now, both groups remain “split over how to address the new technology.”

Jewish dietary laws lay out a fairly elaborate set of rules for shechita, the kosher slaughter practice. But clean meat’s main lobbying group, the Good Food Institute, is reportedly trying to argue that lab meat is in fact pareve, a word used in Jewish dietary law to describe products that are actually meat- and dairy-free. (In short, the group is asking everyone to think of “lab meat” as a product that, technically, is not meat.) According to Quartz, the jury’s out on whether this trick will fly, but rabbis also say that it doesn’t matter what you label the finished product if the cells these start-ups began with initially weren’t kosher.

Likewise, to get a halal stamp, meat must follow a similar slaughter method: A sharp knife must slit the animal’s neck quickly, a prayer has to be said over it, and the carcass is supposed to hang upside down, to drain the blood. Islam prescribes these steps to consecrate the animal, so removing them entirely makes the situation “difficult to decipher,” the USA Halal Chamber of Commerce’s quality manager tells Quartz. Other imams imagine that practicing Muslims will play it safe and just “stay away from this meat for a period of time.”

Can Lab-Made Meat Be Considered Kosher or Halal?