September 3, 2009

by Reb Yudel
Is in-vitro meat kosher?

ylove passed on a link to a fascinating article about the future of in-vitro meat, that is, meat grown in a test-tube:

It starts with cells--it could be a stem cell or something called a myoblast, a precursor to muscle. You proliferate these cells in a kind of nutritious soup that's filled with vitamins and amino acids and salts and sugar. This is the biochemical equivalent of blood. In order for the cells to grow into tissues, they need this medium. And, it turns out, the most promising approach to producing this medium is to use microalgae, which are photosynthetic organisms even more efficient than plants. We recently funded some research at Oxford University to examine how meat cultured with this medium compares to conventional meat in terms of energy impact, and the study showed that it uses 90 percent less land and water, all while producing 80 percent fewer greenhouse emissions.
Development is being spearheaded by a non-profit whose goal is reducing the resource footprint of the world's appetite for meat.

Growing hamburgers in vats solves some halachic problems: No tzaar baalei hayim, cruelty to animals, as in endemic in contemporary factory farming. No need to hire rabbis to oversee the slaughter.

But it raises other questions.

Does meat cloned from a cow's stem cell count as ever min hachai -- meat (ultimately) from a live animal, which is prohibited to be eaten? Can a tissue culture be said to chew its cud if it has no cud, or to have cloven hoofs if it has no hooves? Could it conceivable be parve and permitted to be served with milk?

Ten years from now, McDonald's may boast that its serves low-carbon, cruelty-free in vitro burgers. As Jews, should we eat them?


My sense is the essential nature of the meat would remain unchanged, regardless of whether it was "in vitro" or not.

Overall it would be a net benefit for those seeking to keep kosher. Several considerations (such as having the rabbi oversee the slaughter) would be easier to fulfill. However, I still believe lab grown pork, for example, would remain unkosher... since the essential nature of the animal (and thus the cells themselves) are unclean.

Posted by: Jay at December 3, 2009 3:01 PM
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