By Rachel Konrad, Chief Communications Officer, Impossible Foods
The Center for Food Safety (CFS) has been spreading lies about Impossible Foods for months, and the anti-GMO fundamentalist outfit ratcheted up these deceptions this week on social media. The group alleges that Impossible Foods is “illegally” selling the Impossible™ Burger in grocery stores, in violation of US Food and Drug Administration regulations; this claim is patently false.
In fact, Impossible Foods meets or exceeds all food-safety regulations and is totally legal everywhere we sell the product. Impossible has worked closely with the FDA, the nation’s food-safety guardian, and has shared both extensive test data and commercial plans with the government body. The FDA was fully aware and supportive of our recent launch in retail stores.
The FDA has acknowledged multiple times that the Impossible Burger’s key ingredient is safe to eat. Contrary to what CFS says, Impossible Foods’ products have undergone rigorous safety testing and meet or exceed all relevant federal requirements. We’ve gone far above and beyond all regulatory requirements. In fact, we label our product as containing genetically engineered ingredients, even though there is currently no legal requirement to do so.
CFS claims that it wants more data on the safety of soy leghemoglobin — the special ingredient that makes the Impossible Burger meaty and craveable. In fact, soy leghemoglobin is one of the most highly publicized and thoroughly scrutinized ingredients in modern history, and the FDA, food safety experts, and the public have been able to read and analyze extensive safety testing and other data.
In 2014, a panel of America’s top food-safety experts reviewed extensive test data and unanimously concluded that soy leghemoglobin is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). In December 2017, the FDA published Impossible Foods’ extensive test data online so that scientists and the public could fully scrutinize and understand soy leghemoglobin themselves.
In July 2018, after this thorough, time-consuming, independent and very public review, the FDA itself stated that it had no remaining questions about our key ingredient’s safety. In July 2019, the FDA further authorized soy leghemoglobin as a color additive after the government again scrutinized the extensive safety data. (Federal regulations require color additive approval on all ingredients, with limited exceptions, used to impart color to food — from synthetic substances to fruit extracts.)
In addition to the recognition of safety by the FDA, the respected academic publication International Journal of Toxicology published this peer-reviewed study on safety of soy leghemoglobin. Another respected academic publication, Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, published this peer-reviewed study on potential risks of allergy and toxicity of soy leghemoglobin.
When we were looking for the heme protein to put into our plant-based meat, we wanted something that was totally safe and that would closely mimic all the sensory properties of beef, which gets its characteristic taste, smell and cooking attributes from the heme protein myoglobin. Thousands of different heme proteins are commonly consumed in the human diet; none have ever shown toxicity. We analyzed soy leghemoglobin to determine if it shared any meaningful similarities with known allergens; it does not. We performed numerous tests (including tests on digestion, heat sensitivity and acid sensitivity) to make sure it was safe.
Rigorous test results showed no adverse effects from consumption of our heme protein at levels far in excess of what could ever be consumed by humans eating our product. Our studies established no observed adverse effect at a level of 750 mg/kg/d of soy leghemoglobin, which is more than 100 times greater than the 90th percentile estimated daily intake. In other studies, rodents were fed doses of heme adjusted for body weight that vastly exceed what any human would or could possibly consume — the equivalent of between 30 and 300 pounds of burgers per day. Even at these ludicrously large doses, heme had no observable effect, in any of the studies, on any tissue or organ or the overall health of the rodents.
Heme is one of the most studied molecules in science. Indeed, in multiple studies, feeding massive doses of heme to animals resulted in no overall ill health effects, no cancers, and no reproducible effects that might be related to cancer — an extraordinary record of safety.
Leghemoglobin to the rescue
The destructive impact of animal agriculture on the global environment far exceeds that of any other technology on Earth. The greenhouse gas footprint of animal agriculture rivals that of every car, truck, bus, ship, airplane, and rocketship combined. Animal agriculture pollutes more and consumes more water than any other industry.
Raising animals for food makes up the vast majority of the land footprint of humanity. All the buildings, roads and paved surfaces in the world occupy less than one percent of Earth’s land surface, while more than 45% of the land surface of Earth is currently in use as land for grazing or growing feed crops for livestock. Animal agriculture is a primary driver of the ongoing meltdown in diverse wildlife populations and ecosystems on land and in oceans, rivers and lakes.
Unless we act quickly to reduce or eliminate the use of animals as technology in the food system — the most primitive and destructive technology on Earth — we are racing toward ecological disaster. Impossible Foods’ essential mission is to avert an impending global environmental catastrophe by satisfying the global demand for meat, from plants.
And our heme protein is the magic ingredient that makes the Impossible burger the first true plant-based meat. Heme is what makes meat taste like meat — essential for both the color and the flavor and aroma profile that meat-lovers crave. So the ability to produce a heme protein safely and sustainably at scale is critical for the future of our planet.
Given our mission to replace animals as a food production technology, we’re not surprised by CFS’ campaign to spread fear and lies about Impossible Foods. The goal of CFS — a 501c3 litigating and regulatory activist group — is to thwart progress and restrict farmers and their methods. CFS regularly floods the FDA with auto-generated appeals for stricter regulation of genetic engineering in its quest to “oppose industrial agriculture and food production technologies.”
Bottom line: CFS’ claim that stores are selling the Impossible Burger “illegally” is an egregious, deliberate, cynical lie. Impossible Foods complies with all food-safety laws everywhere it’s sold and works with government bodies that regulate food. There is no evidence whatsoever of any health risks from the Impossible Burger — and in particular there is no evidence whatsoever of any health risks from heme.
Quite the contrary: Heme is essential for life on Earth. It’s the molecule that carries oxygen in your blood, and it’s an essential component of the system that burns calories for energy in every cell; without heme, you die.