* Ancient dietary laws are silent on in-vitro beef
* Cheeseburgers may be kosher if rabbis say it's not meat
* Many Hindu and Sikh vegetarians won't like taste anyway
By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor
PARIS, Aug 9 When the world's first test-tube
beef burger was cooked and eaten this week, food critics all
asked about its taste. For many Jews, Muslims and Hindus, the
first question was whether their faith allowed them to try it.
Religious websites were abuzz with questions and opinions
this week after biologist Mark Post of Maastricht University
presented his innovation to the media in London on Monday.
"Is the lab-created burger kosher?" the Hasidic Jewish
movement Chabad Lubavitch asked on its website.
Dietary laws exist in many religions, but came about so long
ago that not even their prophets could have imagined a
ready-to-fry beef patty grown in-vitro from the stem cells of a
If religious authorities interpret their ancient texts in a
way that allows them to give this new food their blessing,
now-banned kosher cheeseburgers and Hindu hamburgers, as well as
an undisputed method of producing halal meat, could be possible.
Chabad's Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin wrote the Talmud tells of
"miraculous meat" that fell from heaven or was conjured up by
rabbis studying a mystic text.
Since it was automatically kosher because it wasn't from a
real animal, this could be a model for test-tube meat.
But he said if the stem cells are real meat, they have to
come from a cow slaughtered according to kosher law, which says
the animal's throat must be slit while it is still conscious.
Expert rabbis need to study this more carefully "when the
issue becomes more practical and petri-dish burgers become and
affordable option," Shurpin concluded.
The kosher ban on mixing meat and dairy products presents
another hurdle for observant Jews considering a cheeseburger.
Rabbi Menachem Genack of the Orthodox Union in New York told
the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that test-tube beef could be
considered "parve" (neither meat nor dairy) under certain
conditions and so kosher cheeseburgers could be allowed.
LIKE YOGURT AND PICKLES
Islam's halal laws require ritual slaughter similar to
kosher butchering, but with fewer restrictions.
"There does not appear to be any objection to eating this
type of cultured meat," the Islamic Institute of Orange County
in California responded to a questioner on its website.
Animal rights activists see the Muslim and Jewish slaughter
methods as unnecessary cruelty and calls to ban this kind of
butchering have grown in Europe in recent years as halal meat
has become increasingly available in shops and restaurants.
Gulf News in Dubai quoted Abdul Qahir Qamar of the
International Islamic Fiqh Academy in Jedda, Saudi Arabia, as
saying in-vitro meat "will not be considered meat from live
animals, but will be cultured meat."
As long as the cells used are not from pigs, dogs or other
animals banned under the halal laws, he said, the meat would be
vegetative and "similar to yogurt and fermented pickles."
Several Muslim websites left fresh questions about this new
meat unanswered, probably because Muslims were more concerned
this week with celebrating the end of the fasting month Ramadan.
NOT FOR VEGETARIANS
The prospect of meatless beef has also prompted debate in
India, where the Hindu majority shuns steaks and burgers because
it considers the cow sacred.
"We will not accept it being traded in a marketplace in any
form or being used for a commercial purpose," Chandra Kaushik,
president of the Hindu nationalist group Akhil Bharat Hindu
Mahasabha, told the India Real Time blog.
Religious websites have been debating the test-tube meat
issue for some time now, especially since news about biologist
Post's project began circulating about four years ago.
Many Hindus and Sikhs are vegetarians, so several of them
posted comments saying they probably wouldn't like the taste of
artificial meat even if it was declared permissable.
"Who wants to eat a carcass anyways, lab grown or not?" one
reader asked on the Hindu Dharma Forums website.
(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)