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In first, leading kosher authority Orthodox Union certifies lab-grown meat

NEW YORK — The Orthodox Union has certified a strain of lab-grown meat as kosher for the first time, marking a significant step forward for the food technology’s acceptance under Jewish dietary law.

Orthodox Union Kosher, the world’s largest and most influential kosher certification authority, recognized poultry products from Israeli startup SuperMeat as kosher, the company announced on Wednesday.

SuperMeat’s chicken cell line products were recognized as kosher Mehadrin meat, meeting the most stringent qualification for kosher supervision.

“It’s a big deal because just in terms of the technology itself, not just in poultry but in meat, it may have real significance for the future,” said Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the Orthodox Union Kosher Division.

The certification came after SuperMeat hosted two rabbinic delegations and kosher authorities held a series of discussions on halacha, or Jewish law, and the science involved in the company’s technology.

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Certifying lab-grown meat is complicated because the meat cultivation process often starts with stem cells from living animals, and kosher law bars consuming any part of a living animal, Genack told The Times of Israel.

The New York-based Orthodox Union says meat products must come from a slaughtered animal, and nothing can be derived from a living creature.

SuperMeat’s lab-grown poultry sidesteps this requirement by taking the stem cells from eggs, in a process that could open the door for more kosher certification of poultry products.

“I hope it will be a gateway to trying to find consensus among different supervising agencies in terms of what the standards should be” for lab-grown meat, Genack said. “We’re hoping that this will set the trend. One of our goals that we would like to do is to have something that is universally accepted.”

Diners eat burgers made with “cultured chicken” meat at a restaurant adjacent to the SuperMeat production site in the central Israeli town of Ness Ziona on June 18, 2021. (Jack Guez/AFP)

“Aligning our technology with kosher dietary laws holds immense significance for us. This step represents our commitment to inclusivity and respect for diverse dietary needs, making our cultivated chicken meat accessible to audiences around the world,” Ido Savir, CEO of SuperMeat, said in a statement.

SuperMeat’s process takes chicken cells from a fertilized egg and plants them in a meat fermenter, providing the cells with warmth, oxygen and nourishment with a plant-based liquid. The cells mature into meat tissue as they would in a chicken’s body.

The meat grows rapidly, with its mass doubling in a matter of hours, the company says. When the meat is ready, it is harvested from the fermenter by removing the liquid feed.

The company says its chicken products have advantages over farmed meat because the process is animal-friendly, more streamlined and environmental, does not use antibiotics or genetic engineering, has a high level of quality control, and the products have a long shelf life because they eliminate slaughter, a major setting for contamination.

The company, founded in 2015, serves up its products to the public at an eatery called The Chicken in central Israel’s Ness Ziona.

In addition to Genack, SuperMeat hosted Rabbi Hershel Schachter of New York’s Yeshiva University, Israeli halachic judge Rabbi Asher Weiss, and Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon of the Gush Etzion Regional Council and Jerusalem College of Technology.