Recent documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that the Impossible Burger, a meatless burger derived from a protein found in the root of the soy plant is not necessarily safe for human consumption. The burger in question has received a lot of high profile attention recently because despite containing no meat, it looks very much like a regular beef patty, and it ‘bleeds’ like one too. It is a frontrunner in the race to create lab-grown ‘meat’.
The FOI documents show that the FDA cast doubt on the safety of the key GMO ingredient,soy leghemeglobin, with the company being told that they has not provided adequate proof of safety for their genetically engineered protein before putting it on the market. Impossible Foods based their safety analysis on the similarities between their protein and the proteins found in pork. What they failed to identify and acknowledge was the differences between both proteins and the impact of these differences.
The CEO of Impossible Foods released a statement in response to the information in the FOI document, his best defence is to again make a comparison between regular dietary proteins and soy leghemeglobin, saying that only a fraction of the food we eat that is grown traditionally is scientifically proven safe for consumption.While he is right that most of the food we eat has not necessarily been scientifically tested under laboratory conditions to see if it is safe for human consumption, hundreds of thousands of years of evolution has been a continuous process of food safety testing. The protein used in the Impossible Burger is derived from the root of the soy plant which has never been included in the human diet.
Meatless meat is increasingly attracting interest from a number of sectors, being touted as the solution to climate change, animal welfare issues and vegan dietary issues. These are all valid arguments, but the fact of the matter remains that the safety of GMO ‘meat’ products for human consumption can only be proven conclusively by a wait and see approach. There are also inherent political, social and environmental concerns with outsourcing food production to the tech industry. We already know that mass use of GMO crops in industrial farming is leading to catastrophic soil degradation, intellectual property and copyright issues, widespread proliferation of pesticides in the food supply chain among countless others, but do we really want our food to come from the same industry that makes computer software? We should also not be led to believe that GMO is the way to create meatless meat products, Beyond Burger is a very real looking vegan burger that demonstrates that plant-based animal substitutes can succeed without resorting to genetic engineering.
“Under no circumstances should any food company ignore FDA safety warnings and put consumers’ health at risk,” said Dana Perls, senior food and technology campaigner at Friends of the Earth in response to the findings. “The FDA must be the authority when it comes to determining food safety, and that means overhauling the broken regulatory process so that companies like Impossible Foods cannot self-regulate and rubber stamp their products as safe.”
The FDA’s safety designation of “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) allows a manufacturer, like Impossible Foods, to decide for itself, without FDA input, whether or not a product is safe. This self-determination does not require that either the public or the FDA be notified, and may apply to food chemicals regardless of industry conflicts of interest, or whether the chemicals are new or not widely studied. A 2013 US National Survey by Hart Research found that 61% of respondents felt negative about synthetic biology-produced food additives. Polls also show that consumers increasingly want GMOs to be labeled as such, but so far, most companies selling products with synthetic biology ingredients, including Impossible Foods, are not labeling on the products or menus.
To read the FOI documents yourself click HERE