by Deena Shanker | August 28, 2019
The Impossible Burger plans to make its way onto supermarket shelves as soon as next month, but an environmental group is trying to stand in its way.
Friends of the Earth filed an objection to Impossible Foods’ grocery store plan, arguing that the faux meat maker’s “magic ingredient,” soy leghemoglobin or “heme,” has not been adequately tested for safety because only the company has done assessments. Heme is made with a genetically modified yeast, and Friends of the Earth objects to the use of GMOs in the food supply, citing safety concerns.
“Impossible Food’s GMO-derived soy leghemoglobin should not be deemed safe by the FDA based on the inadequate scientific evidence and the absence of responsible safety regulations, and therefore should not be permitted on the market,” the organization wrote in its comments.
“Without a clear long-term, independent safety assessment,” the organization wrote, “the FDA cannot know whether there could be adverse reactions to the GMO-derived SLH in the intermediate to long-term.”
Heme is the ingredient that gives the Impossible Burger its meat-like flavor. Last summer, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, following years of back-and-forth, declined to challenge findings voluntarily presented by the company that the cooked product is “Generally Recognized as Safe,” or GRAS. Such a “no questions” letter means the FDA found the information provided to be sufficient.
But because of its red color when raw, it needed to be formally approved as a safe color additive, too. That means that retailers couldn’t let individual consumers purchase the uncooked product the way they can buy and bring home raw patties by plant-based burger competitor Beyond Meat Inc. That has limited the company to selling only inside restaurants and at food-service locations. Impossible Foods says it now counts about 15,000 locations, including Burger King’s Impossible Whopper.
Impossible Foods said it has been in compliance with food-safety laws since 2014, before its products were offered to the public, and pointed to the FDA’s 2018 no questions letter as evidence of its safety.
“Safety and transparency are our top priorities,” Rachel Konrad, the company’s spokesperson, said in an email. “For years, this outfit has been stoking fear and doubt about Impossible Foods, which meets or exceeds all food-safety federal regulations. We urge consumers to do their homework and decide for themselves.”
FDA spokesman Peter Cassell said in an email that “the agency reviews objections when they are submitted and determines whether or not they have merit, compared against our own scientific review.”
The rule change by the FDA to call the use of soy leghemoglobin safe as a color additive in imitation beef is slated to go into effect Sept. 4, barring any successful objections.