The ABCs of Biotech for Christians - Twelfth in a series - K is for Kosher
Many Jews today follow dietary laws that God commanded some 3600 or more years ago. In Leviticus 11 and again in Deuteronomy 14 the Lord explains that animals that chew their cud and have split hooves are good to eat, and lists the creatures that should be avoided. A kid should not be boiled in its mother’s milk, and this rule was later extended to forbid that meat could be consumed or even combined with dairy products. Animal slaughter and preparation were prescribed in set ways. Certain birds were not permitted. Only fish with fins and scales were allowable. Some insects were OK, like locusts.
These rules have at times been viewed metaphorically by rabbis, theologians and others, for example, the godly man does not have concourse with the entire creation but only with its clean aspects. As Gentiles were brought into God’s kingdom through Christ, the rules were set aside except that Christians should not eat animals that were strangled or that had their blood. (Acts 5:20)
In general it is accepted that God limited his people’s diet to healthful foods that were least likely to promote disease due to bacteria from the forbidden creatures and insects due to their loathsome habits. As well, it is easier to corral or capture herbivores than animals with incisor and canine teeth that can shred you.
A pig is an omnivore that eats both plants and animals, as humans do, and is not particular about his diet — even eats dead animals, insect, his own feces, though by today's farm standards pork is generally regarded as safe if properly cooked.
For the kosher rule, the difficulty today is that porcine (pig) material may be found in unexpected settings. This article describes a method for detecting porcine ingredients that proved they were in a chicken nugget. Or, what about your meatballs? But those examples only show that meats do get mixed up in production and cooking or frying, not that the cow had any pig genes. We’re not talking GM; biotech simply invented the test to verify there was porcine material in the food.
This article describes the detection of both porcine and bovine DNA in pharmaceutical gelatin capsules which are used to encase medicines. Taking ones medicine may not be kosher.
It can be very difficult to be kosher in ones intake, so there are councils whose work is to maintain the standards, and some police the biotech world. “Kosher and/or halal (Muslim) certification is a good example with which to study how sacred notions and beliefs influence the secular, commercial world of biotechnology.”
The religious Jew has studied whether genetically modified foods may be considered as kosher. We Christians have wondered that as well. Is it OK with God to change the genetic structure of a creature that He made? Is it OK to eat GM foods? Will we suffer unintended consequences? Most Americans eat GM foods, including Jews for whom they must be approved by the Orthodox Union.
Are there transgenic critters among those that chew the cud and have split hooves— that is— do the kosher ones have genes from other animals? I read about some but in the articles it was noted that these GM creatures will not enter the food supply— unless by accident. They were modified to make the cow healthier or to produce materials for human health, such as antibodies to fight the ebola virus. And in any case the added gene was not from a non-kosher source.
But are there any formerly kosher creatures in the food supply that have been modified by genes from non-kosher ones? Aha! Yes.
Some salmon, also known as lox when brined, often served with bagels in Jewish circles, are transgenic. The AquAdvantage salmon “produce extra growth hormone, allowing them to grow to market size in 18 months, rather than the usual 3 years.”
From where do the genes derive to promote the fast growth of the AquAdvantage salmon? From the Ocean pout, which is not a kosher fish. This is not your Father’s salmon.