Lab-grown meat is quickly scaling up to become an affordable cruelty-free protein source that's still technically made of actual meat — just, ya know, without any actual living, conscious organisms involved. But what does that mean for religious dietary restrictions? Many of these rules are based on cleanliness concerns, or about a distinct reverence (or not) towards certain kinds of animals. No matter how you slice it, bacon isn't Kosher. But what if that bacon was just grown in a petri dish from the artificially replicated cells of a pig? So there was no actual pig (or cloven hooves, or slaughter, et cetera) involved the creation of said bacon?
Earlier this month, two groups of religious leaders — three Shariah law scholars, along with members of the largest kosher certification agency, the Orthodox Union — each got together with a lab-grown meat startups to talk about how, exactly, their foods could qualify for their respective religious dietary restrictions. As The New York Times reports, the Shariah experts settled on the following criteria:
The cell line it is derived from is from an animal that is permissible to eat, such as a chicken or a cow. Animals such as pigs and reptiles are prohibited.
The cell line comes from an animal that has been slaughtered according to Islamic law, which says it should be done by a Muslim of "sound mind" who would cut the animal's throat with a clean and sharp knife.
The nutrients fed to the cells do not include any substances that are forbidden to be eaten such as spilled blood, alcohol or materials taken from animals that have not been slaughtered properly or pigs.
The cultivated meat is edible and it does not cause harm to one's health.
For the Kosher ruling, the lab-grown meat company SuperMeat was able to qualify by using cells from fertilized eggs, which essentially bypass any rules relating to slaughter since the animal was never technically alive enough to be killed.
These rulings might not convince everyone who is committed to strict religious observance. But it's always interesting to see how ancient texts can be reinterpreted into new technological contexts.
Can Meat From a Lab Be Kosher or Halal? Some Say Yes. [Rebecca Carballo / The New York Times]
Full disclosure: I also write for Wirecutter, which is owned by the New York Times Company, which also publishes The New York Times