Is laboratory cultured pork Halal

Dinner is served

"We reproduce the natural processes that take place in the body of an animal in the laboratory." Didier Toubia, managing director of the Israeli start-up Aleph Farms, summarized what his pioneering company was doing: the production of in vitro meat, In other words, meat for which no animal has to be slaughtered. The company, which was only founded in 2017, is making rapid progress: In November, Aleph Farms presented the prototype of a steak that is suitable for industrial mass production, reported the German industry newspaper “absatzwirtschaft”.

However, a start-up competitor from Silicon Valley recently made headlines: In early December, the Californian company Eat Just received the world's first license to market synthetic meat made from real muscle cells in Singapore. It is chicken meat that is initially offered in the form of chicken nuggets. Eat-Just boss Josh Tetrick spoke of a "breakthrough for the food industry worldwide", the product meets all the requirements for a food and has been "extensively" tested.

The start-up announced its first commercial sale in the middle of this week, and on Saturday evening the “1880”, an upscale restaurant in Singapore, served the laboratory meat to young people invited for their “commitment to building a better planet”.

Stem cells as a key element

Tissues are grown from animal stem cells for laboratory meat. The basis for this meat is muscle tissue taken from a living donor animal. The stem cells are then separated from other cells and cultivated in a bioreactor with the aid of a nutrient medium. The technology has been in development for decades, and it really got a boost with the focus on stem cell research.

Burger for 250,000 euros

In 2013 a burger was presented in London, the meat of which had been grown from muscle cells from a live cow. The verdict of the tasters was cautious: Although a pronounced meat taste could be determined, the laboratory steak lacks the structure, firmness and fat of its natural counterpart. But the costs were even heavier - the price for the bite was around 250,000 euros.

Since then, millions have been invested in dozens of laboratory meat start-ups in Asia, Europe and America. The costs have dropped significantly, but it remains a challenge to produce artificial meat so efficiently that it can keep up with conventional meat in terms of price and quality. Eat Just recently assured that "considerable progress" has been made in this regard. Right from the start, the price of the chicken nuggets will be about the same as that of chicken in an upper-class restaurant, said a spokesman. According to media reports, the cost of a nugget is currently around 50 euros - which seems a bit excessive.

Demand for meat continues to grow

Once approved in Singapore, it seems likely that other countries will follow suit, wrote the science platform The Conversation. In Europe and the USA, the discussion is in full swing. The main argument is the ecological benefit: According to UNO data, around a third of the total land area is already used for livestock or feed cultivation - and the demand for animal protein is forecast to continue to increase as the world population rises.

Global consumption of 33.7 kilograms per person is predicted for 2020. In 2029, per capita consumption is expected to be 34.9 kilograms of meat. Consumption in industrialized countries is considerably higher than in less developed countries. In Austria, for example, per capita consumption averaged 62.6 kilograms in 2019, compared to 63.6 kg in the previous year. The consumption of pork, beef and veal has decreased significantly since 1995, while the consumption of poultry has increased noticeably. According to the data platform statista, the average consumption in less developed countries will be 25.6 kg per person per year in 2020.

The main argument in favor of laboratory meat is that no animal has to lose its life for it, and the discussion about the use of antibiotics in keeping or the possible contamination of meat with multi-resistant germs is also shed. Zoonoses such as Covid-19, i.e. pandemics and epidemics that originate in animals, could thus be eliminated.

"Probably great environmental benefits"

The environmental impact of laboratory meat is currently difficult to assess. Current evaluations assume great relief in land and water consumption compared to all conventional types of meat. At the same time, the energy consumption would exceed that of conventional meat production. Should the technology develop further, but would result in "likely major environmental benefits", according to the study "Meat of the Future" by the German Federal Environment Agency. However, vegetarian meat alternatives are currently the best solution.

Meat eaters are still in the majority, but ethical and ecological concerns are increasing. The Conversation reported that there is a correspondingly high level of interest in laboratory meat - according to surveys, more than half of European consumers would at least like to try it, and around two thirds in the USA. In Asia, acceptance is even higher. Another plus of in-vitro meat: It could be recognized as both kosher and halal, which means that the possible circle of recipients would be wider than for conventional meat.

Others find the concept disturbing, they perceive the laboratory meat as "unnatural" and have concerns about food safety. In theory, however, the technology has the potential to significantly reduce the demand for conventional meat, wrote The Conversation - possibly far more than plant-based meat alternatives.

"Industry still under construction"

But even laboratory meat pioneer Toubia does not believe in a rapid triumph: “The industry is still developing. (...) It's not just about making meat cells. They also have to be transformed into attractive products ”,“ absatzwirtschaft ”quoted the entrepreneur. You can't get a finished steak from the laboratory at the moment, the German ARD recently reported. The artificial muscle cells grow into muscle fibers in a single thin layer. If you press many of these cell layers together to form cell clusters, meat labels, sausages or nuggets can be produced. In order to create three-dimensional meat structures, scaffolds made of collagen or polysaccharides are required on which the cells can grow - science is still researching this.