As the world’s population expands, worldwide meat demand is expected to increase as meat is an essential source of nutrients needed in human beings. However, the vast consumption of this protein source negatively impacts the environment, such as greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, and public health issues, including antibiotic resistance and animal transmitted pandemics. Therefore, as an alternative to conventional meat production, lab-grown meat, also known as cultured meat, has been produced, which does not involve the slaughtering process and only uses the animal cells to imitate the real meat.
Cultured meat is a recent food that has been successfully developed using synthetic technology. It’s also supposed to solve the problem of food insecurity. Nevertheless, the ultimate success of cultured meat depends on customer acceptability. As it is grown in the lab, there are many doubts about cultured meat, such as nutrient content, quality, and safety issues. The most critical issue for Muslim consumers is whether the cultured meat is Halal and thoyyib to be consumed.
Technically, cultured meat is produced by extracting a stem cell through biopsy, the painless removal of tissue without killing or slaughtering the animals and requiring a specific growth medium to feed and raise the cell. The first cultured meat in the world was made in 2013 by the researcher of the Dutch institute in London. They have successfully made the beef burger from billions of cow cells. The global cultured meat market is expected to reach $94.54 billion by 2030 from $28.60 billion in 2026; hence, most food industry players are racing to market the new protein. Currently, Singapore was the first country that approved the San Francisco-based start-up, Eat Just Inc. and its new brand GOOD meat to sell its lab-grown chicken nuggets to customers.
Islam has set some guidelines for determining Halal and haram in food. Every food is Halal except what has been forbidden by sharia, such as animals that are not slaughtered according to sharia, blood, pigs and others. Allah SWT stated that:
حُرِّمَتْ عَلَيْكُمُ الْمَيْتَةُ وَالدَّمُ وَلَحْمُ الْخِنزِيرِ وَمَا أُهِلَّ لِغَيْرِ اللَّهِ بِهِ وَالْمُنْخَنِقَةُ وَالْمَوْقُوذَةُ وَالْمُتَرَدِّيَةُ وَالنَّطِيحَةُ وَمَا أَكَلَ السَّبُعُ إِلَّا مَا ذَكَّيْتُمْ وَمَا ذُبِحَ عَلَى النُّصُبِ
Meaning: Forbidden to you are carrion, blood, and swine; what is slaughtered in the name of any other than Allah; what is killed by strangling, beating, a fall, or by being gored to death; what is partly eaten by a predator unless you slaughter it; and what is sacrificed on altars.
Based on the verse, it is shown that cultured meat that uses cells from non-slaughtered animals are non-Halal unless the cells are taken from animals that have been slaughtered according to Islamic law or taken from marine animals as Allah SWT stated that:
أُحِلَّ لَكُمْ صَيْدُ الْبَحْرِ وَطَعَامُهُ مَتَاعًا لَّكُمْ وَلِلسَّيَّارَةِ
Meaning: It is lawful for you to hunt and eat seafood as a provision for you and travellers.
At this stage, there is no specific statement by any Halal authorities or Halal certification bodies regarding the Halal status of cultured meat. Therefore, we cannot simply determine the Halal status as prior to determining the Halal status of a product, all the processes from “lab to fork”, which are the tissue being taken, the substances used and the cultured meat process, must be examined and ascertained. Furthermore, as cultured meat is a newfound, further researchers may need to develop cultured meat by utilising retrieved stem cells of slaughtered animals. Other than that, it is crucial to ensure that cultured meat is not just Halal, but it must be healthy and safe to consume as it coincides with the concept of Halal and thoyyib. Allah SWT state that:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ كُلُوا مِمَّا فِي الْأَرْضِ حَلَالًا طَيِّبًا
Meaning: O mankind, eat from whatever is on earth [that is] lawful and good
Based on the verse, we are obligated to eat only Halal and thoyyib food. The surest and easiest way to ensure that anything you consume is safe, clean and hygienic is to ensure that it is Halal certified by the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (JAKIM) or any JAKIM recognised certification bodies. One way to do that is by downloading Verify Halal app to verify the Halal Status of products, premises and abattoirs.