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!
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • 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.