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Are GMO's Halal?

Yes, today's biotechnology products are approved as Halal

By K. Hazzah, Economic & Agriculture 2000 research associate
August 4, 2000

Alhamdulillah was-salatu was-salaamu 'ala rasoolillah. All thanks and praise is to ALLAH, Subhanahu wa ta'ala, and we ask that HIS blessings and peace be upon HIS Messenger, Muhammad, salla ALLAHu alaihi wa sallam. This Aya from Surat Al-Ma-ida is the basis for permitting Muslims to consume the food of the "People of the Book", referred to in the Quran as "Ahlul Kitab".

According to the Islamic Jurisprudence Council (IJC), foods derived from biotechnology-improved (GMO) crops are halal - fit for consumption by Muslims. Some scholars have suggested that foods derived from biotechnology-improved crops could possibly become haram (non-halal) if they contain DNA from forbidden foods. For example, swine DNA in soy could make the soy product haram. This issue is still the subject of some debate among scholars and certifying organizations. Should a product be brought to market with a gene from a haram source, today it would at least be considered Mashbooh -- questionable -- if not outright haram. However, all biotechnology-derived foods on the market today are from approved sources.

The Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA), the main North American halal certifying body supports the position of the IJC on GMOS. IFANCA notes that discussions on foods derived from biotechnology are ongoing. Certification by IFANCA is recognized and accepted by the Majelis Ulama Indonesia (M.U.I.), the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (M.U.I.S.), the Muslim World League, Saudi Arabia, and the government of Malaysia.

Similar discussions regarding the acceptability of such foods have taken place among kosher scholars and certifiers. While kosher does not imply haram in any way, the considerations given by Halachich (kosher) scholars may be relevant to ongoing discussions among certifying groups such as IFANCA. Their conclusion, regardless of the source of DNA, genetic modification does not make a product non-Kosher.

According to the Orthodox Union, the strictest interpreter of Halachic laws, GMOs do not pose a concern. "The Halachic implications of bio-engineered foods with possible genes from non-kosher sources has been studied at length by the Orthodox Union's Rabbinical Kashruth Advisory Board, headed by the renowned Rabbi Israel Belsky of Mesivta Torah V'daath and Rabbi Hershel Schechter of Yeshiva University," states the OU. "The conclusion of this Rabbinical Board was that such genetic manipulation does not present any Kashruth problems whatsoever."

The OU scholars, using the example of a potato developed with a gene from a non-kosher source, reason that the non kosher gene is not implanted into the potato plant itself. Rather the non-kosher gene serves as a chemical formulation which is on memory much like a magnetic tape. This formulation is then reproduced onto materials taken from yeast and then introduced into the plant via bacterium. The Reproduced Gene Now In The Plant Is Thus From A Totally Kosher Source.!

None of the original chicken material appears in the plant product, i.e. the potato. The term 'Botel' is therefor inadequate, because there is nothing there to become 'Botel'. There never was any non-kosher material in the potato in the first place.

Kosher and Halal requirements have many similarities, but it would be a mistake to take comparisons too far. Still, biologists note that individual genes in and of themselves are not unique to their source. For example, one would find thousands of the same genes in swine as exist in lettuce. Yet, lettuce remains halal.

Today, however, pending ongoing discussions the main concern for Halal certification would continue to be transgenic materials from pork or other "harem" or "mashbooh" products in foods derived through biotechnology. As of this point in time, no foods are derived from such sources, therefore today biotech derived foods are perfectly acceptable as halal.