It’s tough to even know where to start with this one, but here goes.
A company called Impossible Foods, with $257 million in venture capital funding, recently launched its fake, genetically engineered Impossible Burger—even though, the FDA (supposedly in charge of food safety) can’t say if the burger’s “secret sauce”—soy leghemoglobin—is safe.
How can Impossible Foods put soy leghemoglobin in food if the FDA hasn’t deemed it safe? The New York Times explains:
The F.D.A.’s approval is not required for most new ingredients. Companies can hire consultants to run tests, and they have no obligation to inform the agency of their findings, a process of self-affirmation.”
While you let that sink in . . . here’s the other half of that story. Impossible Foods asked the FDA to weigh in on the safety of its “secret sauce” ingredient, even though it wasn’t required to. The agency did. This is what regulators wrote in a memo to Impossible Foods:
“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.”
Despite that statement, the Impossible Burger went to market. Because, as it turns out, a company can introduce into the food system a product or ingredient that the FDA says may not be safe—as long as the FDA doesn’t say the product is unsafe.
That’s one issue with the Impossible Burger. Here’s the other. According to Max Goldberg, author of “Living Maxwell,” Impossible Foods uses genetic engineering to make the secret sauce that the FDA won’t say is safe. In his column, which appeared on the same day as the New York Times article, Goldberg raised the question of genetic engineering, and whether Impossible Foods is misleading consumers. Goldberg explains how the Impossible Burger is made:
The key to the Impossible Burger is making the burger look and taste like a regular hamburger. Impossible Foods accomplishes this, at scale, through genetic engineering.
Impossible Foods begins with the gene for a protein called leghemoglobin, a heme protein that is naturally found in the root nodules of soy plants. It then takes a strain of genetically-engineered yeast and adds the soy leghemoglobin gene, and proceeds to grow the yeast via the fermentation process. The company isolates the leghemoglobin, or heme, from the yeast and adds that genetically-engineered protein to the Impossible Burger.
To read the company’s website, however, you’d be hard pressed to figure out if you’re eating GMO. And that may be intentional.
Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumers Union, told Goldberg:
“The way in which Impossible Foods is loosely and interchangeably using the word “heme” is misleading consumers. The average person with no scientific background would reasonably read the FAQ section of this website and think that the genetically-engineered heme in the Impossible Burger is ‘identical’ to the heme that humans have been consuming for hundreds of thousands of years in meat and other foods. This is categorically not true.”
If you find this all a little impossible to understand, much less believe, well, welcome to the dark side of “food tech.”