Impossible Foods Gets To Keep This Disputed Ingredient In Its Products

Impossible Foods gets to keep the ingredient to which it credits its edge. As Bloomberg reported, the federal appeals court in San Francisco has upheld the decision made by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow the use of soy leghemoglobin in Impossible Foods' products.

Heme, the name Impossible Foods has given to soy leghemoglobin (perhaps to assuage fears of long chemical names), may just be the key to the product. In fact, Impossible Foods declares on its own website that "heme is what makes meat taste like meat" and it's also the ingredient that gives the product the ability to 'bleed.' It is an iron-bearing molecule found in blood and soy that Impossible Foods manages to replicate by fermenting genetically altered yeast. Green Matters explains that Impossible Foods inserts soybean DNA into the yeast, causing heme to proliferate.

Because Impossible Foods requires GMOs, it has had difficulty expanding abroad because, as NBC notes, many EU countries have been working towards banning GMOs for the last six years. So, had the federal appeals court decided differently, that could have spelled the end for Impossible Foods as we know it.

Why safety experts are cautious about heme

Luckily for Impossible Foods, the FDA generally takes a rather hands-off approach when it comes to regulations. The Center for Food Safety (CFS), though, takes its own mission seriously.

On January 29, the CFS challenged the FDA's allowance for heme. "FDA approved soy leghemoglobin even though it conducted none of the long-term animal studies that are needed to determine whether or not it harms human health," Bill Freese, science policy analyst at Center for Food Safety, said in an accompanying press release. This was despite short-term rat trials indicating possible disruption to reproductive cycles and kidney problems. The CFS called for the cessation of heme's use until its safeness was proven.

However, as reported, two judges sided with the FDA, finding its process rigorous enough, and the third refused to consider the challenge outright. Sylvia Wu, a senior attorney with CFS, expressed the organization's disappointment in another press release: "FDA is supposed to protect consumers from unsafe novel chemicals in our food supply, instead now consumers bear the burden of avoiding these GMO plant-based burgers." So the future domination of Impossible Foods remains a strong possibility.