It sounds too good to be true.
Real meat. It tastes like meat. It looks like meat. It smells like meat. It cooks like meat. It is meat. But no animals are killed or even harmed in its making.
If there is one group that might welcome this marvel of modern technology as much as animal lovers and vegetarians who secretly crave meat, it is Jews who keep kosher. For thousands of years the Torah has prohibited dairy foods from being eaten together with meat. Now, at last, Jews may soon be permitted to enjoy cheeseburgers made with real cheese and real (lab-grown) meat.
And it’s happening faster than you think. On June 21st, for the first time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the sale of lab-grown chicken meat, allowing two companies, both in California, to offer this product to the nation’s restaurants and supermarkets.
These two companies, Upside Foods and Good Meat, are the winners of just the first leg of the race in the U.S. by more than 150 companies globally, feverishly competing to bring lab-grown meats to market economically. Good Meat already sells lab-grown chicken nuggets, cutlets and shredded meat in Singapore.
Variously called lab-grown meat, cultivated meat, cultured meat, and synthetic meat, the names mean the same thing – meat grown from the cells of animals that are not slaughtered. The companies working to produce these meats seem to prefer the name “cultivated meats” for their products. So that is probably the name that will stick.
The potential benefits of cultivated meats are enormous. Ultimately, vast herds of animals will become unnecessary, mitigating their adverse environmental and climate effects and freeing up huge tracts of land for other productive uses. Although cultivated meat at this early stage of development is costly, there is no reason why this product, manufactured at large scale, should not some day become significantly cheaper than meat from slaughtered animals. Pasture lands, animal feed and care, and years-long growth cycles will no longer be necessary. When that happens, great strides can be made in resilience of food systems and in addressing worldwide hunger.
In January, the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel, David Lau, made the determination that cultivated meat is kosher, so long as the production process remains the same as what he inspected in a Rehovot lab. And in more good news, Rabbi Lau determined that cultivated meat is pareve, a category of kosher food, like fruit, that is neither meat nor dairy, and can be eaten with dairy or meat dishes without restriction. But, and it’s a big but, Rabbi Lau wrote that if the product is marketed as meat, rather than meat-like, or if it is cooked in the form of a meat dish, or if it tastes or smells like meat during cooking, then it should be treated as meat, rather than pareve.
Before cultivated meat can be certified as kosher pareve, such as with an OU symbol, or even as kosher meat, the kosher certifying authorities must address a host of sticky halachic issues. For example, are the cells drawn from the animal substantial enough to violate the prohibition against eating meat that was severed from a living animal? Since the product of non-kosher is itself not kosher, according to Talmud Berachos 5b, must the cells come from a kosher slaughtered animal? And perhaps most importantly, what restrictions must be observed to treat cultivated meat as pareve?
Ultimately, these issues will get worked out by the kosher certifying authorities, and some day, mirabile dictu, kosher cultivated meat might cost not much more than non-kosher,