Unlocking Halal Cultivated Meat’s Potential: Exploring an Untapped Opportunity
6 Mins Read
By Prof. Cother Hajat and Dr. Sophie Attwood
The global Halal food market is estimated to reach US$1.67 trillion by 2025, growing to meet the demands of a rapidly increasing Muslim population that will comprise 30% of the world’s population by mid-century. At the same time, meat intake is rising globally, with Muslim-majority countries no exception to this trend. This is especially true in India, a Hindu-majority country, that is nonetheless estimated to be home to the planet’s largest Muslim community by 2030 in absolute terms, with 250 million adherents. The South Asian country is expected to see a 17% rise in national demand for meat by 2030 (see figure 1, below).
Alternative proteins, including plant-based, fermentation-based, hybrid and cultivated products, are currently being developed and positioned as one possible solution to reduce the environmental impact of meat. Yet, little is currently known about the Halal status of many of these products, particularly hybrid and cultivated sub-types, nor the extent to which they may appeal to Muslim consumers. This is despite research showing that Muslim consumers want to see such Halal certification, particularly from their own country’s authorities, to be confident in consuming these novel products.
Alternative protein can help with food security
As well as benefitting the environment, alt proteins are being touted as a potential fix for food insecurity in some Muslim-majority countries. For example, in 2020, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) highlighted a substantial imbalance in Halal food trade, at around US$ 67 billion, indicating an overreliance on imports. The greatest volume of this trade currently comes from non-Muslim majority producer countries in Brazil, India, the US, and Russia. This represents a potential risk to food availability in an increasingly unstable world. Taking the Gulf as an example, local climate and terrain mean the region has a very limited capacity for livestock farming and field agriculture to meet regional dietary demand. This has resulted in over 85% of the total food supply being now imported as of today, including approximately 62% of its total meat supply.
Is cultivated meat halal?
If alt protein is to achieve its potential globally, companies producing and selling these products must also succeed in attracting a share of the global Muslim meat market. One fundamental question that still needs answering is whether all types of alt protein can even be classified as Halal. To date, no clear guidance has been issued by any Halal certification body regarding cultivated and hybrid products that contain cells derived directly from animals, leaving many consumers in the dark about their Halal status. A ‘Halal’ diet refers to the consumption of food and drink that is consistent with Islamic dietary laws, which state that animals must be slaughtered in a prescribed way, and certain types of meat and by-products – including pork and blood products – eschewed.
Islamic scholars have considered the question of whether cultivated and hybrid products can be seen as Halal from various perspectives, with some arguing that cultivated meat contravenes Islam’s ‘Natural Law’, as production can be seen as ‘playing God’, while others suggest that cultivated meat may be permissible if the parent animal, from which cells are harvested, was first slaughtered according to Islamic laws. Another potential obstacle is the use of cell culture media, such as fetal bovine serum, which contravenes Halal guidance because it is taken from the blood of unborn calves. Blood is considered unclean according to Islamic scriptures, a point which has now been clearly highlighted in the updated Malaysian Halal standard (MS 1500/2019). Wholly plant-based media is, however, now being developed, helping to allay the concerns of Halal consumers, as well as addressing the requirements of other ethical vegans, vegetarians and other religious groups.
In addition, further research is needed to better understand how Muslim consumers’ belief systems and religion-specific concerns will influence alt protein adoption. Some factors may play in their favour, for example, the fact that plant-based, hybrid, and cultivated products can all be produced in highly controlled environments, thereby limiting the potential for contamination with non-Halal animal ingredients during production, and helping overcome fears regarding impurity. Alt protein can also circumvent the issue of whether meat should be stunned prior to slaughter, which is generally considered more humane, but some believe is inconsistent with Halal laws.
The potential benefits of Halal alt proteins
Alt protein has additional potential benefits for the Halal economy, both in terms of creating new jobs for Halal meat scientists, as well as supporting the growth of Muslim-owned food businesses. We note that the Chief Rabbi in Israel ruled for the first time in January 2023 that cultivated steak could be considered a Kosher product. This represents the first steps towards such products receiving widespread Kosher certification and is a pivotal move for Israel, a country already home to 57 alt protein start-ups and that has declared food technology a national research priority. The extent to which similar conclusions will be arrived at by Islamic religious leaders remains to be determined. In 2022, the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America deemed cultivated meat provisionally permissible by default, provided Halal criteria are met. This is a timely initial decision given that investment in alt protein technologies is also a priority for Muslim competitive markets in the Gulf, particularly the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia.
Lastly, the adoption of alt proteins is viewed by some Islamic jurists and Muslim consumers as a step towards Khilafa (guardianship of nature)[Quran 10:14], an important principle in Islam related to environmental sustainability.
Beyond alt protein, other well-known Islamic teachings have relevance for health and diet and may further help to catalyse a movement away from excess meat consumption in Muslim populations and towards more sustainable diets. Academic research has demonstrated that religiosity can play an essential role in promoting behaviour change, including pro-environmental actions; for example, a recent study found that Muslim diners were keen to avoid wasting food in order to adhere to teachings within the Quran – a particularly pertinent finding given recent data that shows food waste is extremely high, up to almost 200kg per per per year, in some Muslim majority countries. As such, influential Muslims, including Islamic religious leaders, have an influential role to play in encouraging sustainable and healthy behaviour change and should be included as key stakeholders in the sustainable diets movement in any Muslim-majority country where this is a priority agenda.
For a deeper dive, read the full study here.
Prof. Cother Hajat is a Public Health doctor and professor whose career is focused on promoting healthy lifestyles and preventing chronic illness. She is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians (UK) and a Fellow of the Faculty of Public Health (UK). Her advisory company, Real World Health, provides support to numerous entities including governments, non-governmental organisations, academia and the private sector. Cother is a mother of two boys and has followed a plant-based diet for two decades.
Dr. Sophie Attwood is a Behavioral Scientist who works to help consumers switch to more sustainable plant-rich diets and reduce their food waste. Sophie is a Chartered Health Psychologist and doctor in Behavioral Science from the University of Cambridge. She has researched and published extensively on the science of behavior change for health and sustainability, covering the areas of diet, physical activity, wellbeing, smoking cessation, and alcohol reduction, with her work featured in a range of international media outlets including Reuters, Forbes, The Guardian, World Economic Forum and others.