Made in a lab and costing £250,000, the ‘test tube burger’ consumed in London on Monday had the Jewish world asking one question: is it kosher?
The London Beth Din called it an “extraordinary breakthrough and potentially very exciting development for the kosher consumer” and pondered the end of shechita, bedika (checking of the lungs), nikkur (removal of the forbidden chalev fats), melicha (salting to remove the blood) and possibly parev as well.
“If derived from a kosher animal this could solve a lot of problems,” read an excited London Beth Din statement.
The 5oz burger, sampled by a Jewish food critic and bankrolled by a Jewish technology billionaire, was the culmination of a five year project, which this week showcased what observers called “the future of meat”.
To make the burger, scientists from Maastricht University grew 20,000 muscle fibres using stem cells taken from a living cow’s shoulder. The fibres were then extracted from individual petri dishes, then painstakingly pressed together to form the burger.
The eye-catching breakthrough left many asking whether such a meal could it be kosher, and the answer from kashrut authorities was: maybe.
Dayan Lichtenstein of the Federation of Synagogues Beth Din said: “If they take the cells from a live animal, it’s not kosher, but if they take cells from an animal slaughtered using the shechita method then yes, it could be kosher.”
Chanoch Kesselman from the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations agreed, saying that it would be kosher if “the cells were taken from a kosher source”. However, he said the current process was problematic, explaining: “At the moment it’s not kosher because it contravenes one of the seven Noachide Laws, that of removing a limb from a living animal.”
David Steinhof of the Sephardi Kashrut Authority had a different focus, saying: “Theoretically, it could be kosher. This is how kosher enzymes have been historically produced. The culture medium must be kosher.”
The culture medium, Steinhof explained, was not the original material but the medium on which further growth occurs. However, he raised further difficulties beyond the way in which it was grown in a lab.
“The question is whether the product is meat at all,” he said. “It depends on the number of growth cycles.”
Jackie Lipowicz of the Licensed Kosher Meat Traders Association was among those trading in kosher food who had no problem with the idea of supplying the new test-tube meat, as long as it carried the kosher stamp.
Jewish vegetarians meanwhile were overjoyed at the prospect of finally tucking into a burger. Josh Lee, 25, said: “I can’t face eating an animal, so an artificial burger sounds amazing! Anything healthy and filling that can be produced for many people with minimal impact on the world has to be a good thing… If it means I get to try a burger too – great!”
Google’s Jewish founder Sergey Brin bankrolled the project after realising that the current method of producing meat was environmentally and economically unsustainable, and because he had personal qualms about the ethics of livestock farming. “When you see how these cows are treated, that’s certainly not something I’m comfortable with,” he said.
Josh Schonwald, a Jewish food critic from New York, was the first to taste the pricey dish. “There’s a leanness to it, but the general bite feels like a burger.”