The Jew And The Carrot

Are GMO's Kosher?

By Sara Trappler Spielman

  • Print
  • Share Share
Thinkstock

When the only kosher agency to certify organic food for the USDA announced last month that it will no longer grant kosher certification for products that contain GMOs (genetically modified organisms), it had me wondering: What is the relationship between kosher food and health?

Traditionally, not much — at least not where the label’s concerned.

“Poison can be given a kosher heksher,” Natural Food Certifiers founder and director, Rabbi Reuven Flamer told me over the phone.

“Kashrus has nothing to do with health, at least not physical health. If meat went bad you shouldn’t eat it because it’s not healthy, not because it’s not kosher. It’s two different realms,” he added.

Launched in 1997, NFC’s first certification, Apple K, was based on the principle that “If it’s kosher, it’s good for the soul; if it’s naturally healthy it’s good for the body, and each should have the other,” the website says. “Rejecting products that contain GMOs for kosher certification is a logical addition to our kosher supervision.”

The reasoning, according to Flamer, is simple: “While according to the strict letter of kosher food law, a GMO food ingredient is not prohibited, it certainly is not natural…There is a Torah based law to ‘guard your health’.…Recent studies show that GMOs may cause various kinds of health problems from digestive disturbances to food allergies, and that GMOs require more herbicides.”

Flamer also sites a source from medieval Jewish scholar Nachmanides (also known as Ramban) in a discussion about Torah laws that forbid intermixing certain species of plants and animals. The general argument: every creation, even a blade of grass, has its own mazel (energy flow) that makes it grow. By mixing unseen powers and tinkering with the world means denying God as Creator.

The latest controversy is over the much-debated genetically engineered salmon, expected to hit supermarket shelves next fall — without labeling. Part eel and part salmon, this transgenic creature will be the first genetically engineered animal intended for human consumption. Using growth hormones, scientists have created a fish that will grow at twice its natural rate.

Scary for any consumer, there have been outcries on all ends to Congress and the FDA. But for kosher eaters, wondering whether they can have lox and shmear on their bagels if it’s made of the un-kosher eel’s genes, the answers are vague.

GMO Salmon will still be kosher, according to the OU, because it will have fins and scales, which is what determines a fish kosher by Jewish law. But others, including Flamer, view genetically manipulated salmon as an attempt to improve a God-created perfect ecosystem. Aside from the health concerns, the Torah prohibits mix-breeding two animal species; in this case one of them is not even kosher.

Without a GMO label, a kosher label may prove to be even more complicated. It’s for this reason that Flamer’s initiative to trace GMOs and prevent its kosher certification is ground breaking.

Will other rabbis really put a heksher seal of approval on this because externally it appears to be salmon?


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Jewish Law, GMO, Apple K

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.