The veggie burger that bleeds, The Impossible Burger, which made a splash in Houston earlier this year when Underbelly and Hay Merchant added it to the menu (Hopdoddy as well), might be in for some upcoming drama concerning government food regulations. According to The New York Times , the FDA is concerned that a secret ingredient used to make the burger might be an allergen.
The ingredient at question is soy leghemoglobin, "a substance found in nature in the roots of soybean plants" and probably also under your bed when you turn off the lights and go to sleep. It's also what produces the molecule heme, which gives the Impossible Burger its flavor and meatlike texture.
Impossible Foods makes soy leghemoglobin in a lab in some form of fancy, engineered-yeast wizardry backed by Silicon Valley venture capitalists to the tune of more than $2 billion.
As the Times reports, "FDA approval is not required for new ingredients" such as vegan 'globin to hit the market, so Impossible Foods has really not done anything wrong, and if it were dangerous, the FDA would likely yank the product. It's just that the FDA is currently being sued by consumer advocates over a loophole that allows food and chemical companies to bypass regulations and designate what additives they want to put into food without having to report it to the FDA or the public, "even if the chemicals are new, not widely studied, and not widely accepted as safe." This is done through a process called "self-affirmation," which sounds very Stuart Smalley, but in reality allows a food manufacturer to hire outside consultants to test the safety of its food additives and pass that info along to the FDA or not. In this case, after tests in which 40 lab rats were fed large quantities of Impossible Foods' soy 'globin and the results were shared with the FDA in hopes of gaining an affirmation that it's safe for humans to eat, the agency responded as such:
“F.D.A. believes the arguments presented, individually and collectively, do not establish the safety of soy leghemoglobin for consumption... nor do they point to a general recognition of safety.”
Meanwhile, Eater also reports that Impossible Foods has released a statement excoriating the Times for its article, noting that it "fails to detail the extensive safety testing" of the soy glob, including a "panel of food safety experts from three universities" who deemed it safe:
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In addition, Impossible Foods provided the reporter with details about a rat feeding study in which rats consumed the equivalent of more than 200 times the amount of heme, in the form of soy leghemoglobin, that the average American consumes daily from ground beef.
We're not sure how heme is even pronounced, but the thought of it leaving our lips, rather than entering the mouth via burger form, is sounding far more appealing right about now.
Update 4:46 p.m. Impossible Foods has shared its full response to the New York Times article with the Houston Press: