The Orthodox Union has granted kosher certification to a type of lab-grown meat, a decision that could signal an expansion of options available under Judaism’s intricate dietary laws.
OU, the most prominent kosher certifier in the United States, has recognized Israeli startup SuperMeat’s poultry products as kosher, the company announced Wednesday. The startup is part of a growing industry that aims to provide an alternative to traditional meat by creating food in the laboratory from stem cells.
“This collaboration aims to bridge the gap between scientific understanding and halachic adjudication by establishing unprecedented standards in the cultured meat industry,” said Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of OU Kosher, in a statement, using a term that refers to Jewish law. .
The lab-grown meat certification process, a years-long pursuit by SuperMeat, demonstrated the complexity of applying Judaism’s ancient dietary laws to a culinary landscape where the variety of foods, and how they are produced, is expanding rapidly – from lab-grown meat to plant-based alternatives and more. It could also represent yet another increase in the number of kosher products that consumers can remove from supermarket shelves.
“This step represents our commitment to inclusivity and respect for diverse dietary needs, making our cultured chicken meat accessible to the public around the world,” said Ido Savir, CEO of SuperMeat, in a statement. “We believe this historic initiative with the Orthodox Union not only expands options for kosher consumers around the world, but will also establish clear guidelines for other companies in the cultured meat industry seeking kosher certification, opening new avenues for the food industry. Kosher.”
The lab-grown meat industry is in its infancy and may attract consumers who enjoy eating meat but who are opposed to slaughtering animals for food. It remains to be seen whether lab-grown meat produced on a large scale will be cheaper or more environmentally sustainable than regular beef or poultry. The US Department of Agriculture granted its first approval for cell-cultured meat in late June, and SuperMeat initially plans to launch its products in the United States. The company is also seeking halal certification.
“The vast majority of the vegan-vegetarian movement is very supportive of us,” SuperMeat co-founder and CEO Koby Barak told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 2016. “And we thank them for really supporting us.”
On the surface, kosher certification for lab-grown meat doesn’t seem to herald a revolution for observant Jewish consumers, especially in places where traditional kosher animal products are already easy to find.
As with regular chicken, OU has certified the lab-grown variety as kosher meat, meaning it cannot be eaten with dairy. This separates it from recent plant-based meat alternatives like Impossible Foods or Beyond Meat, many of which are certified pareve – neither meat nor dairy – meaning they can be eaten alongside all kosher foods.
Plant-based meat provided a way for observant Jews to eat imitations of some archetypal non-kosher foods, such as cheeseburgers or meat-topped pizza. SuperMeat will not offer this type of possibility.
But Genack said that for Jews who maintain a strict form of kosher laws, SuperMeat’s certification will be a blessing. “Theoretically, the impact on pricing and availability should be significant,” he said.
This is because the company’s chicken products are classified as Mehadrin kosher – the strictest form of kosher supervision. And if the UO decides to certify lab-grown beef as kosher, which it has not yet done, that could lead to an increase in the supply of meat that is “glatt” kosher, a term that refers to the meat slaughtered from an animal whose lungs are smooth.
The kosher stamp of approval came after SuperMeat hosted two rabbinic delegations and kosher officials held a series of conversations about Jewish law surrounding the science used in the company’s technology, the Times of Israel reported.
Obtaining kosher certification for lab-grown meat is complicated because the process of growing meat from stem cells requires the use of live animals — and kosher law prohibits the consumption of any part of a live animal. Founded in 2015, SuperMeat’s lab-raised birds avoid this dilemma by sourcing stem cells from eggs rather than the live birds themselves. And since the eggs are in an early stage of fertilization, there is no worry that the blood will end up in the product, which would also be prohibited under Jewish law.
“We were looking for something that could be universally accepted as Mehadrin, completely kosher, and that’s what taking the stem cells from the eggs represents,” Genack said.
The cells are planted in a meat fermenter that simulates the biology of a bird. In the fermenter, cells receive heat, oxygen, and plant-based liquid nutrition. They then mature into meat tissue and grow quickly, doubling in mass in just a few hours. When the meat is ready to be harvested, the liquid feed is removed.
Different kosher opinions
Other Orthodox rabbis, such as Israeli Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, have ruled that some lab-grown meat labeled as a meat alternative could be considered pareve. Genack said that in the Orthodox Union there were different opinions about how lab-grown meat should be classified.
But the agency decided to mark it as meat because it is derived from an animal and looks exactly like meat.
The Conservative movement’s top rabbis came to the same conclusion in 2018, deciding that meat from lab-grown kosher animals was kosher, but that disputes over its status and potential confusion meant it should be considered meat.
“Cultivated meat should be designated as ‘meat according to the rabbis,’ even though there is no need for kosher slaughter, wound inspection, removal, soaking, or salting to remove blood,” wrote Rabbi Daniel Nevins, author of the legal opinion. on the topic, which was accepted almost unanimously by the movement’s legal committee.
Genack noted that lab-grown pork will remain banned because it is derived from a pig, which is not kosher. (The UO also refused to grant certification to Impossible Pork, even though it is plant-based, because of what Genack called “consumer sensitivities.”)
“Anything you derive from something non-kosher is not kosher,” he said. “If you milk a non-kosher animal, the milk is also non-kosher, because it is derived from a non-kosher source. So this doesn’t open up that opportunity.”
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