Chief Rabbi David Lau on Wednesday issued a precedent ruling stating that the lab-grown meat produced by the Israeli startup Aleph Farms is parve, meaning it I neither dairy nor meat, conditioned on the company marking it clearly as non-meat, which may or may not interfere with their marketing strategy.
In a section of their website titled “Meat for Earth,” Aleph Farms dubs their product as “A new way to steak,” not non-steak. They, in fact, stress: “We’re skipping the cow part. Not the steak part.” The copy that follows might get your hunger enzymes going: “Starting with the building blocks of nature, cells, we keep them cozy and well fed, just like they would be inside a cow. In 3-4 weeks, they mature into the cells that comprise whole cuts of steak – just like the ones we know and love today.”
How would they sell all of that with a tab on their package that warns consumers that halachically speaking, it is, in fact, not meat at all?
Rabbi Lau issued his ruling after examining the production method in the company lab and talking to many professionals. It may be the most significant halachic ruling that defines “cultured meat” as kosher – with or without the Parve thing.
Cultured meat is produced using tissue engineering techniques pioneered in regenerative medicine. Jason Matheny, a former Biden White House official and the president and CEO of RAND Corporation, popularized the idea in the early 2000s in a paper he co-authored on cultured meat production. He then created New Harvest, the world’s first nonprofit organization dedicated to in-vitro meat research.
Needless to say, cultured meat has the potential to ease the environmental impact of millions of methane-packed cows, animal suffering, food security, and health. But will frum families buy it if it ain’t really meat?
The reason for defining the Aleph Farms cultured meat as Parve is the company’s production method: they produce stem cells from a fertilized egg in a lab, without an animal, and without slaughter. Since their method is to extract the stem cells from a fertilized egg before it is attached to an animal’s body, Rabbi Lau believes that the fertilized egg in itself is not forbidden to eat, therefore, the product is not considered meat, and there is no need to wait six hours after consuming it to consume dairy. In fact, kosher cheeseburgers, here we come.
Those frum consumers may need a more right-wing authority, such as Badatz, to rule on cultured meat. There’s also the taste test: does it really taste like steak?