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Cultivated beef can be kosher, Israel’s top rabbi says

Dive Brief:

  • Cultivated steak made by Aleph Farms can be kosher, Israeli Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau ruled. This is the first ruling on religious dietary restrictions that has been made for any cultivated meat product.
  • “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,” the product is kosher, he wrote, according to a translation of the document quoted in The Jerusalem Post. If the product is marketed as meat and has a similar taste and smell, the newspaper’s article says, it could also be given stricter scrutiny and defined as kosher. 
  • Cultivated meat companies and researchers in that ecosystem have been talking for years about whether their products would be kosher or halal, since there is no animal slaughter involved.

Dive Insight:

This ruling comes a step closer to a determination that those following cultivated meat have been wondering for years. Companies in the space have been working toward getting approval for their products from government authorities, but a nod from religious authorities is also extremely important.

Aleph Farms, based in Rehovot, Israel, invited Lau to take a close look at their facilities and the process they use to make cultivated steak. His 11-page ruling, written in Hebrew, takes note of the specific procedures and growth serum Aleph uses to make its meat. And while this is not a kosher certification — that needs to be done by a dedicated certification organization — it lays the groundwork for one to come in the future.

Still, this is the first time that any religious leader has officially weighed in on whether cultivated meat fits into dietary restrictions.

“It sets a foundation for an inclusive public discourse about the intersection of tradition and innovation in our society,”Aleph Farms co-founder and CEO Didier Touba said in an emailed statement. “At Aleph, we innovate in order to provide quality nutrition to anyone, anytime, anywhere in service of people and the planet, and that includes people with different culinary traditions.”

A kosher certification, which means that a food item meets specific dietary laws for members of the Jewish religion, has been seen as a critical point of entry into the food market in general. Research in 2017 by Kosher Network International found that the global market for kosher foods was worth $24 billion, and was projected to grow 11.5% by 2025. The global market for kosher beef is expected to reach $100.85 billion by 2030, according to Research and Markets. The firm says the bulk of demand comes from the U.S., France and Israel, which have more than 86.8% of the world’s Jewish population.

But a kosher certification isn’t just important to Jews. Rabbi Eli Lando, executive manager of certification organization OK Kosher, said in an interview last year that Jewish people represent only about 20% of the kosher product consumer base. By and large, consumers see a kosher certification as a verification that a product is healthy, clean and safe. And while the certification has roots in religious traditions that are thousands of years old, it now speaks directly to the modern consumer’s demand for wholesome foods.

While Lau’s opinion only applies to the beef being produced by Aleph Farms, it would not be surprising if other cultivated meat manufacturers started to reach out to religious authorities to try to secure certifications. Aleph said that it is also in contact with Muslim and Hindu leaders to get their opinion on whether cultivated beef fits into the dietary restrictions for those religions. 

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