Despite the global rise in both vegetarianism and veganism, getting people to completely cut meat from their diet still remains difficult, especially from some of their favorite foods like a beef burger. Impossible Foods found the solution in heme, genetically engineered plant yeast which it incorporates into the burger to give them the flavor and taste of real meat. But the process of producing the meatless meat has raised questions if it’s safe for human consumption, leaving the plant-based burger popularly known as the Impossible Burger in a regulatory gray zone until now.
Impossible Foods has on July 23 received official recognition from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that heme, one of its key ingredients is safe for human consumption. The US food regulators in its letter to the San Francisco-based company said it had “no questions at this time,” qualifying the ingredient - soy leghemoglobin into the regulatory category of GRAS or “generally recognized as safe”
Ingredients of the impossible burger
The impossible burger is made from potato proteins, wheat, xanthum and coconut oil. The key ingredient is the soy leghemoglobin and the iron-rich protein - heme.
Heme occurs naturally in soy plants and also found in all animal tissues, but in small quantities. The company produces heme by genetically modifying yeast. Aside from the impossible burger, the company incorporates the meatless meat - heme into many of its products like meatballs as a substitute for real meat.
The FDA approves the meatless meat
The impossible burger has been widely consumed for some time now, with almost 3,000 restaurants in the U.S. and Hong Kong currently serving the faux patty. In 2015, FDA said in a memo that it lacks credible information to ascertain if heme was safe for consumption or not. The Impossible Foods gained FDA approval for its uncanny edible after its October 2017 submission of a 1,066-page document to the US food regulators in a fresh GRAS application. The document included years of research on the key genetically engineered ingredient creating questions.
“Getting a no-questions letter goes above and beyond our strict compliance to all federal food-safety regulations,” said Dr. Patrick O Brown, Impossible Foods founder and CEO. “We have prioritized safety and transparency from day one, and they will always be core elements of our company culture.”
The approval is not only handing a boost to animal welfare but a wide range of environmental benefits. For instance, eating an impossible burger prevents damage worth 18 miles of vehicle emissions if compared to a beef-made burger. However, this does not issue a pass mark to all good substitutes campaigning for good health. Over 10,000 chemicals are added directly or indirectly to foods in the US and some 1,000 are being used by food manufacturers without notifying U.S. food regulators. A fresh report by the American Academy of Pediatrics revealed that among 4,000 good additives reviewed by the FDA, some 263 contained reproductive toxicology data, while 2 had developmental toxicology data.