FDA greenlights lab-grown meat for sale to the public

FDA greenlights lab-grown meat for sale to the public

Two food startups have been given the green light to start producing and marketing lab-grown meat, making the US the second country in the world to make the new product available to the public. While animal and ecology activists are thrilled about the new offerings, people more concerned with adhering to Biblical dietary guidelines are still considering the implications.

The US Food and Dairy Association gave two companies,  Upside Foods, and Good Meat, approval to begin marketing their lab-grown chicken meat products to the public. The meat, cultivated from animal cells with the help of nutrients like amino acids, is in large metal vats called bioreactors. Upside Foods gathers cells from fertilized chicken eggs that are stored in its cell bank and can be used for at least ten years. 

Both companies had previously received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration. It will be a while before cultivated meat is available on shelves. Both Good Meat and Upside have stated that their chicken will first be made available in restaurants before they arrive in supermarkets.

The US is now the second country, after Singapore, that allowed the sale of Good Meat’s lab-grown meat in 2020. The cell-cultured meat industry is growing rapidly and is predicted to hit $13.7 billion by 2043.

Advocates of the new meat claim that it has many advantages, including as a possible solution for global warming, inhumane treatment of animals, and growing global hunger. Livestock production generates 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The biggest obstacle to widespread consumption of the lab-grown version is price. One analysis report from 2020 puts the price of producing a pound of lab-cultured meat at $17, whereas the price to produce a pound of beef is just $2.

Many vegetarians and animal rights activists, though certainly not all of them, do not consider cultured meat to violate their moral convictions, but the new branch of food technology is presenting a wide range of questions for Torah-observant Jews: Is it really meat?  Can it be considered kosher since it doesn’t have the traditional signs of a kosher animal (hooves, chewing cud, feathers, scales, fins)? If so, can it be kosher since it cannot be slaughtered in the way described by the Torah (shechita)? If it isn’t meat, can it be eaten with milk, which is forbidden? Is meat grown from pig stem cells kosher? Is taking the stem cells from a living animal considered ever min hachai, ripping a limb from a living creature, which is forbidden to Jews and non-Jews, according to the seven Noahide laws?

At least some of these questions were answered in January when Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau released a ruling that lab-grown meat is kosher and that it can be served with dairy products. His ruling came in response to an inquiry by Aleph Farms,  a cultivated meat company located in Rehovot.

“As long as cultured meat is defined and marketed as a vegetable product [that is] similar to meat and there is supervision over the rest of its ingredients, then the halacha [Jewish law] would categorize it as kosher pareve; as a vegetable product.”

Halacha forbids the consumption of dairy products with meat, including poultry. This is derived from the Torah stating three times, “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk” (Exodus 23:19; Exodus 34:26; Deuteronomy 14:21).

At least one rabbinic authority has ruled that meat cultured from stem cells taken from a pig would be kosher.

Some rabbis suggest that the basis for lab-grown meat was described in the Talmud. In tractate Sanhedrin 59b, the rabbis discuss “meat that descended from heaven”.

They tell of Rabbi Shimeon ben Chalafta, who was walking on the road when lions came and roared at him. He quoted, “The young lions roar for prey and beg their food from God” (Psalms 104:21), and two lumps of meat fell from heaven. The lions ate one and left the other. Rabbi ben Chalafta brought a piece of this meat to the study hall and asked: Is this fit to eat or not? The scholar answered: “Nothing unfit descends from heaven.” Rabbi Zera asked Rabbi Abbahu: “What if something in the shape of a donkey were to descend?” He replied: “You howling bird, did they not say that no unfit thing descends from heaven?”

The same tractate, on page 65b, deals with a similar issue, reading: “Rabbi Chanina and Rabbi Oshaia would spend every Sabbath eve studying the Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation, one of the early books of Kabbalah) by means of which they created a calf and ate it.”

Rabbi Yeshayah Halevi Horowitz, a 16th-century rabbinic authority, ruled that meat created in an unnatural manner, such as by Kabbalistic methods,  is not considered a real animal and does not need ritual slaughtering. Malbim, a 19th-century Torah scholar,  commented that meat created this way is not considered meat and can be eaten with milk. He suggested that this is the type of meat Abraham offered the angels (Genesis 17:7-8), and was, therefore, able to serve them milk at the same time.

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