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Meat grown in a laboratory could be considered halal, according to a suggestion from a Saudi Arabian Islamic scholar to a U.S. food startup, as the industry begins exploring product certification to comply with religious dietary rules.
San Francisco-based Eat Just asked three Islamic scholars to study whether cultured meat meets halal standards. The academics concluded that it is OK as long as any stem cells used to make it are taken from halal sources, among other regulations.
While the industry is still a long way from reaching commercial scale, U.S. and Singaporean regulators have given the green light to a handful of lab-grown meat startups, and companies have been looking to test whether their products are suitable for billions people. Consumers eating a halal or kosher diet.
The process is far from simple, as religious dietary certification varies from country to country, and religious authorities in different jurisdictions may have different opinions.
Mirte Gosker, managing director of the Asia-Pacific alternative protein advocacy group Good Food Institute, said that while Eat Just’s decision will not immediately change the halal status of cultured meat products on the market, it lays the foundation for commercialization.
“This week’s ruling provides much-needed insight into what the roadmap to approval may look like, and we expect startups to immediately begin adapting their production processes to meet this new guidance,” she said.
Lab-grown or “cultured” meat is made from animal cells and grown in bioreactors, in contrast to plant-based meats produced by companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, which are made from pea and soy proteins, among others Made from ingredients. Over the past year, investors have been betting on cultured meat rather than plant-based meat.
Islamic scholars suggest that to be considered halal, the product’s cell lines must come from an animal that Muslims can eat, that has been slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law and fed with permissible nutrients. They also stipulate that the finished product should be edible, healthy and approved by the relevant regulatory agencies.
Josh Tetrick, CEO and co-founder of Eat Just, said that while the company’s products are not currently halal, they will start ensuring that their products are halal. This will involve converting their current cell lines derived from chicken embryos to those derived from fresh halal meat.
Tetrick said there is strong demand for lab-grown meat in Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Middle East and Southeast Asia, in part to improve food security.
“Our priority is to scale the technology, bring down the cost and ensure it’s accessible to everyone, including the 2 billion people who don’t eat meat at all unless it’s halal.”
Eat Just’s cultured meat division Good Meat, which sells cultured chicken at a restaurant in Singapore and a restaurant in Washington, D.C., is working with Saudi Arabia’s Halal Products Consulting, a subsidiary of the country’s Public Investment Fund, on the certification process suggestions.
In Singapore, the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura, the city-state’s only entity with the authority to issue halal certification, is working with Esco Aster, a Singaporean culture-based meat maker, to establish a regulatory framework.
The Orthodox Union, the world’s largest kosher certification body, last week certified the chicken cell lines used by Israeli food startup SuperMeat.
There are already signs of divergence. Indonesia’s main Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, ruled in 2021 that cells extracted from live animals and cultured in bioreactors do not meet halal standards.
Meanwhile, in Israel, which has become a hub for cultured meat startups, the country’s Ashkenazi chief Rabbi David Lau said in January that Aleph Farms’ lab-grown steaks were kosher. However, Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the Orthodox Union, said this is not the case because the cell line was harvested from a live animal.