How often have you been at a community fundraiser or life-cycle event such as a wedding or a bar or bat-mitzvah and been asked the question, “Do you want the beef or the chicken?”
You probably don’t think about the environmental impact of putting meat on a plate, and you probably aren’t thinking about the kashrut of emerging meat production methods.
A 2006 report put out by the United Nations, Food and Agricultural Organization claimed that meat production was one of the major contributors to global environmental degradation.
The report said that livestock raised for meat uses 30 per cent of global ice-free terrestrial land and eight per cent of global freshwater, while producing 18 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the entire global transportation sector.
One of the speakers at this year’s annual Ideacity conference, held in mid-June in Toronto, touched on research she is involved with that could have a positive impact on these numbers.
Daisy van der Schaft is an assistant professor in the department of biomedical engineering at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands. Her presentation focused on reducing the negative environmental impact of meat production by growing animal muscle tissue in vitro instead of growing whole animals.
This technology is called cultured meat (or in vitro meat) production, and it’s currently in the research stage at a number of laboratories around the world that are producing small quantities of cultured meat. Large-scale production requires further research and development.
In addition to environmental impacts, cultured meat has other potential benefits compared to conventionally produced meat.
Cultured meat can prevent the spread of animal-borne diseases and has the potential to reduce diseases that result from human-animal contact. As well, because it’s being developed in a controlled environment, the manipulation of nutritional, textural and taste profiles is possible. For example, by controlling the quantity and quality of fat, nutrition-related illnesses such as cardiovascular diseases can be reduced.
As science fiction moves toward science fact, the question that kept coming to mind was whether this type of meat would be considered kosher.
I reached out to Rabbi Mordecai Torczyner, head of the Yeshiva University Torah-MiTzion Beit Midrash in Toronto and posed a few questions.
• Would the meat be considered kosher if the cells were taken from a kosher animal?
• Would this “grown meat” be considered pareve or fleishig?
• Where in the process would kosher supervision need to be applied?
Rabbi Torczyner indicated that until this type of “meat plant” is approved for human consumption by groups charged with food safety and health, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, it’s unlikely that any kashrut certification body will provide any definitive guidance.
“Hypothetically,” he added, “the kosher certification authority would need to review the processes involved and determine the original source of the meat and its derivation from actual animal cells, or synthetic materials replicating the DNA structure.”
Cheaper and environmentally sustainable kosher meat may still be a few years away. But we can dream, can’t we?