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Israel gives world’s first regulatory approval to cultivated beef

The approval was given to Aleph Farms, a Rehovot-based startup.

Barbecue meat prepared for Israel's 74th Independence Day celebrations in Ben Shemen Forest, May 5, 2022. Photo by Flash90.
Barbecue meat prepared for Israel's 74th Independence Day celebrations in Ben Shemen Forest, May 5, 2022. Photo by Flash90.

Israel’s Health Ministry gave regulatory approval to the world’s first cultivated beef steaks on Wednesday, which a leading culinary expert said places Israel at the forefront of foodtech.

The approval was given to Aleph Farms, a Rehovot-based startup.

“This news holds paramount economic meaning as it revolves around leading companies in the field of food tech, with Israel taking the forefront on a global scale,” Eli Helman, a culinary expert told JNS. Helman founded Datilishes, an online community of over 80,000 that promotes kosher food.

“Of course, for those who abstain from meat, this is going to be a convenient solution. Think of a gathering of friends cooking over BBQ, including vegetarians, who can come together and share the pleasant culinary experience,” Helman added.

Aleph Farms also received the blessing of Israeli Chief Rabbi David Lau on Wednesday. He issued a religious ruling recognizing the cultured beef as “parve” which means food not considered either meat or dairy. Observant Jews do not mix meat and dairy and wait a period between eating the two.

“This innovation now enables those adhering to Jewish tradition to enjoy a cheeseburger, an experience previously forbidden for them,” Hellman explained.

But the Chief Rabbi’s ruling comes with caveats. “One might not be able to tell the difference between the real meat and the cultured one. For this reason, the chief rabbi prohibits advertising the cultured meat by Aleph Cuts with dairy products,” said Helman.

Israel has one of the highest rates of vegetarianism and veganism in the world. An estimated 13% of Israel’s population is vegetarian, meaning they don’t eat meat, fowl, fish or the byproducts of animals killed for food. Around 5% of Israelis are vegans, who maintain a stricter diet — refraining from all animal byproducts, such as dairy, eggs and honey.

Cultured meat, also known as lab-grown meat, is produced through a process called cellular agriculture or cell-based meat production.

A small sample of animal cells, typically muscle cells, are taken from a live animal through a biopsy. These cells serve as the starting point for the production of cultured meat. The isolated cells are then placed in a controlled environment, such as a culture medium containing nutrients, growth factors, and a scaffold to mimic the natural conditions within an animal’s body.

When the cells become more distinct, they are differentiated into specific cell types, such as muscle cells, fat cells and connective tissue cells. The differentiated cells are then assembled into three-dimensional structures resembling the composition of meat. The cells are then left to grow before being harvested.

Cultured meat is touted as environmentally friendly, more efficient to produce, and offering greater food security.

“This approval makes Israel the first country in the world to approve beef cell culture as food and a world leader in the field, while protecting public health,” said Dr. Ziva Hamma, head of the ministry’s Department of Food Risk Management. She said the cultured beefsteaks passed after being examined for allergens, toxicology, nutritional composition and microbiological and chemical safety, among other factors.

Helman told JNS the ministry’s approval will help normalize cultured meat and vegetarian lifestyles.

“I don’t foresee cultured meat entirely replacing traditional meat, but I believe it will gradually become part of the broader culinary landscape,” he said.

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