Due to the growing global demand for proteins and the importance of producing products not coming from animals as alternative food sources, the Health Ministry in Jerusalem is the first in the world to approve a “new food” of cultured meat originating from beef-cell cultures.
As part of a pilot program for the examination of an alternative protein, carried out in the ministry’s food-risk management in its National Food Service, the new product includes cell cultures originating from cattle, rather than chicken cells that are also recognized as “cultured meat.”
Because cultured meat is defined as a new food, it requires a complex and detailed approval process to protect public health. Each new food is examined individually because each company has different technology, production processes, and products.
The ministry team performed a thorough evaluation of the safety aspects related to the consumption of this new food by the Israeli company Aleph Farms, which is a cellular agriculture company that enhances sustainability, food security, and animal welfare. It diversifies the supply and decentralizes the production of quality animal proteins and fats as a complement to sustainable methods of conventional animal agriculture.
Established in Rehovot in 2017, Aleph Farm’s cofounder is biomedical engineering Prof. Shulamit Levenberg at Haifa’s Technion Institute of Technology. After receiving information from the company and after passing all examinations, ministry approval was given to market the product to the general public in Israel.
Dr. Ziva Hamma, director of the food-risk management department, said that “this makes Israel the first country in the world to approve beef-cell culture as food and a world leader in the field while protecting public health. We examined toxicology, allergens, nutritional composition, microbiological, and chemical safety of the new food and its production process in all its aspects, starting with the initial cell isolation and ending with the processing and packaging of the finished food product.
To enter the kosher and halal (Muslim) markets, cultivated meat needs to comply with specific standards and requirements, including how the product has been produced and where it originates. Aleph Farms has said that because the laws are very specific around how meat is produced, processed, and prepared, cultured meat poses the important question of whether it be considered kosher or halal and if Halacha (Jewish law) regards it as pareve that can be eaten with dairy foods.
Didier Toubia, co-founder and CEO of the company, has said that there are a number of guidelines and rules around kosher and halal food preparation and consumption practices, specifically around meat. In fact, meat that is considered kosher is also considered halal, but not vice versa.
First, there are two signs to determine if land animals are kosher: cloven hooves and if it is a ruminant (does it chew its cud). Kosher law also forbids the consumption of any aquatic animal that does not have both scales and fins.
According to Halacha, meat must be slaughtered in a kosher manner, and it’s also forbidden to eat a limb torn or cut from a living animal. In addition, kosher law forbids combining meat and dairy, and consuming blood, the sciatic nerve, and specific animal fats are prohibited as well.
Some rabbinic authorities contend that the criteria of slaughter should be met in order for cultivated meat to be considered as kosher. Others argue that specific types of starter cells are not included in the prohibition. If the product is considered kosher, it becomes subject to the limitation of consuming it together with dairy. There are some who claim that under certain circumstances, cultivated meat can be considered both kosher and pareve (edible foods that don’t contain meat).
One of the most defining considerations for kosher certification is where the starter cells originated from. If the starter cells originated from a live animal, or an animal that was not slaughtered in a kosher manner, the acceptability is much less clear because these cells might fall into the prohibition on consuming flesh from a live animal. However, it is probable that if starter cells can be isolated from a kosher-slaughtered animal, the end product can be certified as kosher.
He concluded that the subject requires a careful analysis of the exact production methods of the final product. Religious authorities have been analyzing this complex and unprecedented issue in consultation with Aleph Farms since the very early stages in order to arrive at a final ruling.