When the so-called “Impossible Burger” hit restaurants across the United States, it did so with a cavalcade of fanfare that made it one of the best-selling vegan substitute products of all-time.
Considering that Americans are set to eat more meat than ever before in 2018 according to Fortune magazine, and the negative environmental impact of factory farms is off-the-charts, that can only be a good thing, right?
Not necessarily, according to recent information uncovered by grassroots health organizations, as well as documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
While the burger does use some healthy ingredients like coconut oil, potato protein and wheat protein (debatable, but still healthier than many burgers), there are more than a few things you should know about how it’s made before you take your next bite.
“Impossible Burger” Dogged By GMO Secret, FDA Controversy
The Impossible Burger had a wildly successful debut in many eateries, even outselling beef in hundreds of restaurants. The burger came with its own unique story and drummed up a huge amount of publicity all thanks to one surprising feature: its ability to “bleed” through the use of a little-known ingredient called heme, an iron-containing molecule that comes from soy.
“(Heme) is responsible for the characteristic of taste and aroma of meat, it catalyzes all the flavors when meat is cooked,” the company’s website states.
“Heme is exceptionally abundant in animal muscle – and it’s a basic building block of life in all organisms, including plants…Adding heme to the Impossible Burger makes it a carnivore’s delight. Super tasty.”
But what they don’t mention is that the ingredient, while classified as generally recognized as safe (GRAS, the same term applied to GMOs) by the FDA, has also been embroiled in a safety controversy with the agency.
In 2015, the FDA wrote in its official notes that the “the current arguments at hand, individually and collectively (with heme), were not enough to establish the safety of (heme) for consumption.”
In order to address the FDA’s concerns, the Impossible company called off the evaluation.
“This does not mean that the agency has safety concerns about the ingredient,” said an FDA spokesperson to California Magazine about the product.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that the ingredient, which is produced by a process using genetically engineered yeast, has been proven unsafe.
But it points to a larger issue at the FDA whereby many new and unique modern foods and additives, especially those that are GMO, are consistently approved despite a lack of long-term safety testing, oftentimes through data provided by the companies themselves.
To be fair, the Impossible Burger company admits on its website that it is in fact made from this GMO process. But because the burger is sold almost entirely in restaurants, many vegans, vegetarians, and even just people who are fans of a good veggie burger mostly have no idea what they’re eating.
The company had the following to say about the safety of its burgers.
“Nothing is more important to Impossible Foods than the health and safety of our consumers. Impossible Foods is fully compliant with all U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations,” the company’s website says. “Based on a rigorous review by an expert panel of food safety scientists from the University of Nebraska, University of Wisconsin and Virginia Commonwealth University, the Impossible Burger is ‘generally recognized as safe’ or GRAS and has been since 2014.”
But considering the novelty of this ingredient and the fact that it’s made from GMO yeast, is it fair to wonder whether or not this burger is a good choice for human health?
Novelty foods like those containing heme may come with unique allergy risks. Already we’ve seen another meat substitute product named Quorn (made from a type of mold or mycoprotein) has been sued for an allergy related death previously, and others have reported getting “violently ill” from it.
The Impossible Burger hasn’t had any serious side effects yet, but already the FDA has “expressed concern that it has never been consumed by humans and may be an allergen.”
The same allergy-related concerns were expressed when GMOs were first introduced by the FDA’s own scientists, and now decades later we have one of the least healthy populations of people in the world here in the United States.
Needless to say, you may want to do your homework before making the Impossible Burger a daily part of your diet, and look into organic restaurants and veggie burger options instead.
Thumbnail photo via San Diego Magazine.