When the world's first test-tube beef burger was cooked and
eaten this week, food critics all asked about its taste.
For many Jews, Muslims and Hindus, the first question was
whether their faith allowed them to try it. Religious websites were abuzz with
questions and opinions this week after biologist Mark Post of Maastricht
University presented his innovation to the media in London on Monday.
"Is the lab-created burger kosher?" the Hasidic
Jewish movement Chabad Lubavitch asked on its website. Dietary laws exist in
many religions, but came about so long ago that not even their prophets could
have imagined a ready-to-fry beef patty grown in-vitro from the stem cells of a
If religious authorities interpret their ancient texts in a
way that allows them to give this new food their blessing, now-banned kosher
cheeseburgers and Hindu hamburgers, as well as an undisputed method of
producing halaal meat, could be possible.
Chabad's Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin wrote the Talmud tells of
"miraculous meat" that fell from heaven or was conjured up by rabbis
studying a mystic text. Since it was automatically kosher because it wasn't
from a real animal, this could be a model for test-tube meat.
But he said if the stem cells are real meat, they have to
come from a cow slaughtered according to kosher law, which says the animal's
throat must be slit while it is still conscious. Expert rabbis need to study
this more carefully "when the issue becomes more practical and petri-dish
burgers become and affordable option," Shurpin concluded.
The kosher ban on mixing meat and dairy products presents
another hurdle for observant Jews considering a cheeseburger. Rabbi Menachem
Genack of the Orthodox Union in New York told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency
that test-tube beef could be considered "parve" (neither meat nor
dairy) under certain conditions and so kosher cheeseburgers could be allowed.
Like yoghurt and pickles Islam's halaal laws require ritual
slaughter similar to kosher butchering, but with fewer restrictions."There
does not appear to be any objection to eating this type of cultured meat,"
the Islamic Institute of Orange County in California responded to a questioner
on its website.
Animal rights activists see the Muslim and Jewish slaughter
methods as unnecessary cruelty and calls to ban this kind of butchering have
grown in Europe in recent years as halaal meat has become increasingly
available in shops and restaurants.
Gulf News in Dubai quoted Abdul Qahir Qamar of the
International Islamic Fiqh Academy in Jedda, Saudi Arabia, as saying in-vitro
meat "will not be considered meat from live animals, but will be cultured
"As long as the cells used are not from pigs, dogs or
other animals banned under the halaal laws, he said, the meat would be
vegetative and 'similar to yogurt and fermented pickles'." Several
Muslim websites left fresh questions about this new meat unanswered, probably
because Muslims were more concerned this week with celebrating the end of the
fasting month of Ramadan.
As an option for vegetarians, the prospect of meatless beef has also
prompted debate in India, where the Hindu majority shuns steaks and burgers
because it considers the cow sacred."We will not accept it being traded in
a marketplace in any form or being used for a commercial purpose," Chandra
Kaushik, president of the Hindu nationalist group Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha,
told the India Real Time blog.
Religious websites have been debating the test-tube meat
issue for some time now, especially since news about the project
began circulating about four years ago.
Many Hindus and Sikhs are vegetarians, so several of them
posted comments saying they probably wouldn't like the taste of artificial meat
even if it was declared permissible."Who wants to eat a carcass anyways,
lab grown or not?" one reader asked on the Hindu Dharma Forums website.