Uncooked Impossible Burgers illegally being sold in US supermarkets
Center for Food Safety has called on the US Food and Drug Administration to recall the uncooked Impossible Burgers currently being sold in US supermarkets due to concerns over a colour additive approval.
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In a letter to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Center for Food Safety (CFS) noted that raw Impossible Burgers, from Impossible Foods, are being sold illegally even though there is no regulation in effect to allow such sales as required under federal law. The supermarkets that are currently selling uncooked Impossible Burgers include Wegmans, Gelson’s and Fairway Market.
In order to manufacture its genetically engineered (GE) Impossible Burgers to appear to ‘bleed’ like real meat, Impossible Foods uses synthetic biology (synbio) to extract DNA from the roots of soy plants – where a small amount of soy leghemoglobin or ‘heme’ is produced – and inserts the DNA into genetically engineered yeast where it is fermented to mass-produce this engineered heme. It is the heme that gives the GE Impossible Burger its reddish-brown colour. This new heme is also why Impossible Foods needed to seek FDA’s approval to use its heme as a colour additive before it could sell the uncooked GE burgers in grocery stores.
In August 2019, FDA approved Impossible Foods’ petition to list heme as a colour additive. CFS filed objections to that approval in September 2019, which legally prevent the regulation from going into effect and prohibit any sales of the product until those objections are resolved. The CFS also launched an action alert to encourage consumers to urge FDA to revoke its approval of this heme until independent safety testing is conducted and made available to the public.
“Without valid FDA approval in place, it is unlawful to sell uncooked Impossible Burgers at retail stores,” said Ryan Talbott, Center for Food Safety staff attorney. “The law is clear that when FDA receives an objection to a proposed colour additive, FDA must hold approval of its use while it reviews the objection, in order to ensure that it is safe for human consumption. FDA should issue a recall telling retailers to remove uncooked Impossible Burgers from their shelves immediately.”
The objections filed by CFS raised concerns about FDA’s safety review of this genetically engineered heme for use as a colour additive in genetically engineered Impossible Burgers. The group noted that in order to be approved as a colour additive, there must be “convincing evidence that establishes with reasonable certainty that no harm will result from the intended use” of the heme. CFS’ objection emphasises that through the synbio process, new compounds – including proteins – may be created that have never been consumed by humans before, and thus the impact of these compounds on our gut and our overall health is unknown.
“This is the first time that people have consumed synbio heme,” said Center for Food Safety’s Policy Director, Jaydee Hanson. “FDA should have required additional testing to make sure that this new substance does not cause allergic reactions in people, but the agency failed to do so.”