Halal is an Arabic word that means “permissible or lawful” in English. The word refers to what Muslims are allowed to do in their lives, especially when it comes to food and drink. The opposite of halal is haram, which is again an Arabic word for something that is “forbidden”. The Holy Qur’an and the Hadith, the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad that include his sayings, actions and approval, define what it means for something to be halal and what it means for something to be haram.
It is common to associate the term halal with the Islamic dietary laws (also called halal law or halal diet), especially those relating to meat. In order for Muslims to eat meat, they need to know exactly where it comes from, how it was processed and how it was prepared for them. In addition, the Islamic legal system clarifies which foods are permitted and which are prohibited.
Allah says in the Qur’an: O people, eat what is good and lawful from the earth. In another verse He says: Eat the good things We have provided for you and be grateful to God. From this verse, Muslim scholars have derived an Islamic maxim or principle known as: “Any food is allowed to be consumed unless proven otherwise”. This includes drinks, water, fruits, vegetables, seafood, nuts, milk, rice, wheat, eggs and so on. But when it comes to animals that need to be slaughtered, the basic rule is: “It is forbidden until it is proven that the animal was slaughtered according to Islamic teachings”. So if a Muslim wants to eat meat from a cow, a lamb or a chicken, he must make sure that it comes from a slaughtered animal and that it was slaughtered according to Islamic teachings, which emphasise the need for a proper slaughter process.
Halal certification is awarded by halal organisations to ensure that the food consumed complies with Islamic laws and the requirements of the Halal diet. Therefore, Muslims around the world are allowed to consume, drink or otherwise use these products.
However, the service offered by the various halal certification organisation around the world for their various certification services can vary greatly. If a product has a label that says it has been certified as Halal, it is easier and safer for Muslims to eat the product. This is especially helpful for Muslims living in countries where Muslims are a minority in the population.
Halal Consideration for Cultivated Meat
When we discuss about halal cultivated meat, there are three aspects, namely (i) the structure of the scaffold, (ii) the use of serum, enzymes, growth factors and nutrients, and (iii) the source of stem cells, which is one of the most important considerations.
The most important requirement for the scaffold is that no non-halal elements are used during the process. If gelatine is used for the scaffold, it must be derived from halal elements, i.e. from halal slaughtered animals, excluding gelatine from marine animals. If it is used as scaffold for the cultivation process, then there are no halal issues for this scaffold.
The same condition applies to nutrients, enzymes and growth factors. If they come from animals, they have to be extracted according to the Islamic principle after the halal animal has been slaughtered. But for animal serum it is not allowed in the first place, because serum is equated with blood from an Islamic point of view. God says in Surah al-Maidah, chapter 5, verse 3: “You are forbidden (to eat): Al-Maytatah (the dead animals or carcasses – livestock that has not been slaughtered), blood (including animal serum), the flesh of pigs (including pig gelatine), and the flesh of what has been slaughtered as a sacrifice for other than Allah.” Thus, the use of the serum for cultivation process may result in non-halal cultivated meat.
However, there are many studies and researches that suggest the use of plant-based serum or chemically defined media as a substitute for animal-based serum. Thus, if this alternative is used during the cultivation process, it may result in halal cultivated meat.
The next point is the most important in halal requirements for cultivated meat, namely the type of stem cells from different sources in the production process. I will focus on three sources that are regularly used in the production of cultivated meat, namely (i) stem cells from meat (adult stem cells), (ii) stem cells from chicken eggs and (iii) stem cells from an embryo.
The majority of Muslim scholars are of the opinion that stem cells from meat comply with the law of meat, i.e. it must be slaughtered before it can be eaten, based on the hadith in which the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him says: “Any part of the body of an animal that is cut off while the animal is still alive is considered a carcass (which is prohibited to be consumed)”, excluding marine animals.
Why is there an exception for marine animals such as fish, shrimp and crabs? Because the Prophet says about the sea water, “It is pure ( referring to the sea water), and the carcass of the sea animal may be consumed”. For this reason, no one slaughters the sea animal. So if the flesh of the sea animal is cut off while it is still alive, that flesh is considered a carcass, but it is permissible to consume it according to the previous hadith. So the cultivated meat of marine animals does not have to be slaughtered.
The second type of stem cells comes from the egg of a chicken. When the stem cells are obtained from eggs, the Islamic laws on the eggs is applied, which are halal in the first place, and they can be consumed without having to be slaughtered. So for the cultivated meat obtained from stem cells from chicken eggs, the chicken does not have to be slaughtered.
The third type of stem cells comes from the embryo, which is called janin in Qur’anic terminology. In a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH, he says: “The slaughter of the foetus is dependent on the slaughter of its mother”. Therefore, cultivated meat derived from embryonic stem cells of un-slaughtered animals is prohibited.
This short article looks at the three main sources of stem cells. If a scientist or company uses a different type of stem cell, further research must be done. Cultivated meat is one of the alternative proteins offered to consumers, there are also plant based meat, insect based protein and fermentation. So please wait for another article on these three types of alternative protein.
Written by: Dr. Mohammad Naqib Hamdan, Senior Lecturer, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia