Introduction: What is Cell Cultured Meat?

Cell-cultured meats, also known as lab-grown meats, rely on intricate biotechnological processes that merge cellular biology, tissue engineering, and food science. The primary objective of this process is to cultivate animal cells in a lab, without the need to raise and slaughter animals, providing a potentially more sustainable and ethical source of meat.

The production of cell-cultured meat begins with cell isolation, where a small biopsy is taken from a living animal. These extracted cells typically consist of muscle cells, also known as myocytes, but can also include other cell types such as adipocytes (fat cells) or fibroblasts (connective tissue cells) depending on the desired composition of the final product. These cells are then immersed in a culture medium—a cocktail of vital nutrients, including amino acids, sugars, salts, and growth factors—that mimic the physiological conditions these cells would experience within an animal body, stimulating them to grow and proliferate.

Once these cells have grown sufficiently, they are subjected to a process of differentiation and maturation. This is achieved by altering the nutrient mixture in the culture medium, simulating the metabolic shifts that naturally occur during animal growth. The muscle cells, for example, will be stimulated to fuse together forming myotubes and start expressing muscle-specific proteins, which leads to the formation of muscle tissue. Simultaneously, fat cells will start accumulating lipids, adding to the flavor and texture of the final meat product. To form a three-dimensional structure that resembles a piece of meat, the cells are usually grown on edible scaffolds that support the formation of tissues, much like the extracellular matrix does in a real organism. Once a sufficient amount of tissue has been grown, it can be harvested, seasoned, cooked, and consumed just like conventionally raised meat.

A key point to note is that cell lines are mainly harvested from alive animals as the cell viability and functionality rapidly deteriorate when an animal is harvested. That said, there have been numerous examples in research settings where cell lines have been established from non-living organisms. Nevertheless, once a cell line is established the resulting cultured product can be produced for a very long time.

The Halal Status

Before delving into the discussion of the halal status of cell-cultured meats specifically, it is important to understand what makes meat halal in the first place.

For meat to be halal, it must be harvested in accordance with Islamic rites:

  1. The animal must be alive at the time of slaughter
  2. The slaughterman should be a Muslim
  3. The name of God should be invoked when harvesting each animal
  4. The specie be a halal specie (no carnivorous animals, swine, or vermin)

When it comes to cell cultured meats, there are a few key issues.

Species

The first and foremost aspect of assessing halal suitability is to determine whether the cell lines are being harvested from a halal specie or a haram (non-halal) species.

Halal species include all animals except the following:

  1. Carnivorous animals
  2. Swine
  3. Vermin
  4. Birds of prey

Living Status of Animal at Time of Harvest

An established principle in the laws of halal is that “The removed living part of an alive animal is not considered halal.” For example, hypothetically, if raw tissue were harvested and cooked, it would not be halal.

This does not apply to parts of the animal, such as its wool which are not considered living parts.

Thus, in the context of cell-cultured meats, if the cell lines are established from animals while they are alive, it would not be considered halal. Conversely, if they were established from animals slaughtered according to Islamic rites, it would be considered halal.

The Process of Culturing

The production process of any given item is critical to its halal status. In principle, the production process should maintain the integrity of the halal identity of the product throughout the production process.

In the case of the culturing process, the cocktail of vital nutrients required an extremely detailed review and analysis to ensure that no non-halal raw materials are employed, such as non-halal animal derivatives or ethanol.

The Verdict

To bring it all together, there are a few key factors for a cell-cultured product to be halal. Firstly, the cell lines must be from halal species. Secondly, in order for a cell-cultured product to be halal, the cell lines must be established from animals slaughtered according to Islamic rites. Lastly, the culturing and overall production process must not contaminate the product with any non-halal materials.

In light of the aforementioned, most current products that exist would not be considered halal due to the fact that the cell lines are taken from alive animals. Due to the critical nature of cell-cultured products, it is imperative that every product be evaluated on its own merit, and consumers only consume products that are halal certified.