People who observe Halal and Kosher religious practices are increasingly faced with a threat to the prohibition of such slaughter practices in certain countries. Many Muslim and Jewish observers follow dietary religious laws if they eat meat. Specifically, livestock and poultry must be slaughtered following strict rules, requiring that the animal is healthy at the time of slaughter and has not been rendered unconscious through stunning.[i] Animal rights activists believe that such practices cause unnecessary suffering to animals and have advocated for prohibitions of such practices, in some cases successfully. With the advent of lab meat (or in vitro meat), scientists and religious leaders are struggling to determine if this alternative can qualify as halal and kosher.[ii]
There are a number of European countries that do not allow the halal or kosher slaughter of animals without being stunned before the slaughter, but there are others who permit the practice for the amount necessary for consumption by the religious group.[iii] Specifically, the Netherlands has passed laws to end religious slaughter altogether, as advocated by The Dutch Party for the Animals.[iv] Despite the animal rights activists’ involvement, some European countries have a powerful history of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim rhetoric.[v] The religious minorities often view such regulations as an emulation of Adolf Hitler’s 1933 ban on the slaughter of animals in Germany without prior stunning, which prevented Jews in Nazi Germany from accessing acceptable kosher meat.[vi]
Many Rabbis and Islamic scholars have considered the question of whether prior stunning of the animal before slaughter is allowed under halal and kosher obligations.[vii] The rabbis have reached a general consensus that stunning prior to slaughter is not consistent with Jewish doctrine, even under extreme situations, like that of Nazi Germany.[viii] On the other hand, Islamic scholars have not come to a consensus about the topic; some accepting the practice if all the other conditions for halal slaughter are met, and others rejecting it because they believe it is against religious rules and creates problems for animals.[ix] However, of the 500 million animals slaughtered annually for consumption in the Netherlands, about 1.6 to 2 million are used for halal meat, and only 3,000 are for kosher meat.[x] Thus, it is the Jewish community in the Netherlands that is facing the true challenge of finding necessary alternatives to kosher meat.[xi]
An alternative to halal and kosher meat in the Netherlands may be the world’s first test-tube beef burger, developed by biologist Mark Post of Maastricht University.[xii] However, there are questions amongst Muslims and Jews about whether their faith allowed them to eat lab produced in vitro meat.[xiii] In vitro meat is animal tissue cultivated from myoblasts cells that are mixed with the requisite proteins and fatty acids, and grown under lab-monitored conditions, allowing the donating animal to live.[xiv] Thus, Jewish and Muslim scholars question whether such cultured meat is religiously acceptable.[xv] One view is that the myoblast cells must be taken from animals considered halal, forbidding cells from pigs, dogs, or other impermissible animals.[xvi] On the other hand, Rabbi Yuval Cherlow believes that even lab-grown pork would be kosher for consumption by Jews, as cloned meat is not subject to the rules of regular meat.[xvii]
Thus, despite the high cost of lab meat and unknown long-term effects on human health and the environment, this may be a viable alternative to those Muslims and Jews who live in countries where traditional religious slaughter has been banned.[xviii]
[i] Nina Siegal, New Slaughtering Rules Pit Dutch Religious Freedoms Against Animal Rights, N.Y. Times, Dec. 31, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/31/world/europe/netherlands-kosher-halal-animal-rights.html.
[iii] Library of Congress, Legal Restrictions on Religious Slaughter in Europe, March 2018.
[iv] Siegal, supra note 1.
[vi] Library of Congress, Legal Restrictions on Religious Slaughter in Europe, March 2018.
[x] Siegal, supra note 1.
[xii] Reuters, Is the ‘Lab Burger’ Kosher or Halal?’ ‘Cultured Meat’ Sparks Questions on Religious Rules, HuffPost, August 9, 2013.
[xiv] Thomas Billinghurst, Is ‘shmeat’ the answer? In vitro meat could be the future of food, Gulf News, May 02, 2013, https://gulfnews.com/going-out/restaurants/is-shmeat-the-answer-in-vitro-meat-could-be-the-future-of-food-1.1176127.
[xvii] Toi Staff, Rabbi: Lab-grown pork could be kosher for Jews to eat – with milk, The Times of Israel, March 22, 2018, https://www.timesofisrael.com/rabbi-meat-from-cloned-pig-could-be-eaten-by-jews-with-milk/.
[xviii] Reuters, supra note 13.
Bunyad Bhatti is a summer associate in the firm’s Princeton office.